Medically Reviewed By:
Dr. Patricia Sullivan MD MPH on 8/16/2021
The Guide to Understanding Addiction in Nursing (and getting help)
Although nurses are an integral part of the medical field, they are human, too. Substance abuse in nursing is possible, especially considering the number of stress nurses can endure.
Substance abuse among nurses has been studied since the 1970s, and since then, many reasons exist to justify how nurses and drug abuse can go hand-in-hand and why we have to reduce the number of nurses struggling with substance abuse.
In our guide, we walk you through the reality of addiction in nursing and show you how to get help. You can not only save your career, you can save your life.
- The Challenges and Stress of Being a Nurse
- Coping With the Stress of Working in the Nursing Field
- Nurse Addiction Signs to Know
- Nurse Addictions Lead to Suffering Patient Care
- Rehab for Nurses With Addiction Problems
- Returning to Nursing Work After Rehab
The Challenges and Stress of Being a Nurse
Substance abuse among nurses has been a documented problem for at least 40 years and has evolved into an ongoing case study. There are plenty of reasons why anyone would resort to substances that will take the edge off of inevitable or circumstantial obstacles in life.
A lot of people are surprised to learn about nurses struggling with substance abuse. Without thinking too deeply, the questions of how substance abuse in nursing is possible or even how nurses and drug abuse relate will immediately come to mind.
Nurses are trained to work alongside doctors to treat patients and administer top-quality medicinal work even when the doctor isn’t present. However, if you think a bit deeper, you can see how nurses can fall into substance abuse issues. If you have a loved one who is a nurse, you should see how stressful their daily work life is. The crazy overnight work schedules combined with the long hours dealing with different patients can become physically, mentally, and emotionally stressful.
Coping With the Stress of Working in the Nursing Field
The NCBI reports that different aspects of the job affect male and female nurses differently: Women – range of roles (48.4%), role duality (40.9%), job environment (39.6). Men – range of roles (57.5%), job environment (50%), responsibility (45%).
Considering these numbers, it isn’t far-fetched that not only does the job environment affect their performance and stability, but the wide range of things they have to do within a shift affects them as much, if not more!
The availability of prescription medicine in the workplace and their medical education also seemingly makes it okay for nurses to indulge in substances they believe will help them.
However, the stress of nursing will continue and addiction patterns will play out. Naturally, this means the usage increases. Although the drugs might have helped the first two times, the stress of the job doesn’t stop. Eventually, nurses become dependent on the drugs to have a smooth day at work.
Nurse Addiction Signs to Know
Every addiction display signs and symptoms of substance abuse. When addicted to a substance, both internal and external effects occur.
- Hand tremors
- Excessive sweating
- Marked nervousness
- Coming to clinical intoxicated
- Frequent hangovers
- Odor of alcohol
- GI upset
- Slurred speech
- Increased anxiety
- Unsteady gait
- Excessive use of breath mints
Substance abuse among nurses doesn’t just show up physically, but it also shows up in their work involvement and efficiency. As nurses struggling with substance abuse dig deeper into their addiction, they’ll usually do things such as calling in sick, begin to build a reputation of tardiness, and even disregard their work shift as a whole.
If you can, notice the patterns and actions of a nurse who is struggling with substance abuse issues. Notice how “off” they might seem when comparing their usual self with how they are now. If you pay attention closely, you will see how the behavior of nurses struggling with substance abuse shows warning signs.
Nurse Addictions Lead to Suffering Patient Care
The biggest effect is their performance involving patients. Patients are there to get help from medical professionals. However, if there is an issue with substance abuse in nursing, the patient’s care and longing for it decreases. Professionals end up spending more time trying to get themselves together rather than caring for someone in need.
Addiction can affect anyone’s work performance, making them seem irritable or disengaged. In the case of nurses, this is liable to cause an uncomfortable or tense feeling between the nurse, staff, and patients. Patients might not get their required medicine or other treatments on time because of a nurse’s sluggish work. The nurse might not even tend to the patient at all, constantly calling for assistance.
Rehab for Nurses With Addiction Problems
Substance abuse treatment isn’t exclusive to people outside of the medical field. Once again, nurses are human. If they break a leg or get extremely sick, they don’t simply take care of it themselves. They’ll go to a medical center of their choice to get treated.
When substance abuse in nursing becomes too apparent to hide, the first step to recovery is putting the nurse on an indefinite leave of absence.
According to RegisteredNursing.org, “the nursing leadership team and human resource leaders are required to, in most states, report the abuse to the Board of Nursing (BON) and the local police authority.” Each investigation process is different and is dependent on the Board of Nursing in each state.
According to RegisteredNursing.org, “the nursing leadership team and human resource leaders are required to, in most states, report the abuse to the Board of Nursing (BON) and the local police authority.”
Nurses struggling with substance abuse also attend recovery centers like everyone else. While in a recovery center, nurses are coupled with other individuals who might not relate to being a nurse, but they can relate to struggling with substance abuse. Within a recovery center, nurses can have reinforced support with learning more about their addiction aside from how they were taught.
Despite their medical education, nurses are still at risk of altering their brains due to substance abuse. While on drugs, their decision-making and the ability to follow through with those decisions eventually dwindle.
Knowing people who can speak on addiction from a perspective outside of medical work can help nurses struggling with substance abuse. They become more able to see their addiction outside of the scope of medical experience as well.
Returning to Nursing Work After Rehab
Nurses also have to go through a process of reinstatement to get back to work. The process involves different meetings that will assess whether the nurse can return to work without falling into another substance abuse issue. The first thing that usually happens is a contract being drawn up.
A return-to-practice contract must be signed by a returning nurse that says they will follow the guidelines illustrated within the contract to resist abusing whatever substance they have abused before.
Return-to-practice Contracts May Include:
- the length of the contract
- the plan for treatment (if the contract is signed at the time the nurse’s dependency is first detected) and aftercare
- practice restrictions, such as no overtime.
- prohibiting the administration of narcotics for a certain time (six to 12 months unless there is evidence of drug diversion, prescription fraud, or harm to a patient. Then the restriction must be 12 months with no access.)
random drug screening requirements
- mandatory attendance at support group meetings for nurses with substance use disorders
- professional standards that the nurse’s job performance must meet
- provision for periodic evaluation meetings with direct supervisor
- steps to be taken in the event of relapse
- consequences of failure to comply with contract stipulations
- regular reports from supervisors or work-site monitors
Conferences are also held for the nurse to highlight certain expectations and answer any questions the returning nurse asks.
It can be very hard for nurses, specifically those working in pharmaceuticals, to reinstatement considering their job is linked directly to providing prescription drugs. Sometimes, hospitals assign another nurse as an aide for the returning nurse.
The assisting nurse will help handle the prescriptions while the returning nurse handles the assisting nurse’s job. Doing so gradually gets the returning nurse back into their groove and tests their willpower, but it also strengthens teamwork.
Get a Free Nursing Addiction Treatment Consultation Today
If you or someone you love is a nurse struggling with substance abuse, the first step you can take is to reach out to a treatment specialist. Our addiction helpline exists at no cost to you, and we can provide you with a free treatment consultation for your specific situation. Call (888) 906-0952.
If you’re on the outside looking in on a nurse who is addicted to drugs, don’t think there’s absolutely nothing you can do. The best thing you can do is gather the resources to help them save their career and, more importantly, their life.
When anyone goes through substance abuse issues, they need genuine support. Showing support isn’t just telling someone you support them or chastising them about their addiction. Growing an understanding by asking them questions about their use and doing research on what type of support you can give to someone who has an addiction can create a strong foundation for recovery.
Understand that you can’t simply tell them not to do it. You don’t have to be a nurse to fully understand the stress that comes with being in the medical field. The constant hustle of marching back and forth from room to room for many hours at a time, all while dealing with personal things at home, can burn you out.
Every day nurses are placed right in the middle of life and death situations. Researchers estimate that “more than 40% of hospital staff nurses scored in the high range for burnout, with 43.2% of nurses reporting high levels of emotional exhaustion.”
“more than 40% of hospital staff nurses scored in the high range for burnout, with 43.2% of nurses reporting high levels of emotional exhaustion.”
Nurses who are struggling with addiction need help. If you are a nurse struggling with addiction, or if your loved one is struggling with substance abuse as a nurse, call us today for the best recovery resources. We will refer you to the people best qualified to help. Call today!
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