Substance abuse among nurses: Risk factors and treatment

Substance abuse among nurses: Risk factors and treatment

Substance use disorder (SUD) is rampant across the length and breadth of the United States, afflicting millions of people regardless of their culture and occupations, including the world of nursing. According to the official journal of the American Nurse Today (ANT), approximately 10-15 pertcent of the nursing population or one in 10 nurses is struggling with a drug or an alcohol addiction or are in recovery. Compared to the general population, nurses develop dependence and addiction to substances because of easy access to drugs.

Nurses struggling with SUD can jeopardize the health and lives of millions of patients under their supervision and care. Nurses are the backbone of the healthcare system and their addiction problem must be addressed seriously, specially in a country like the United States.

Triggers pushing a nurse toward substance abuse

Nurses can resort to addictive substances because of various reasons. Some of them can be:

  • A registered nurse has a demanding profile, with rotational shifts, long working hours and over timing. All these take a toll on their physical as well as psychological health because of lack of sleep and compromised personal lives. Therefore, to keep her herself awake and alert, a nurse might fall prey to an addiction.
  • Like war veterans, nurses might also have to witness traumatic events, such as flooding of ER with the victims of an accident, riots, some natural calamity, blood loss, unsightly injuries, helpless loved ones of the patients, deaths, etc., which can greatly impact the mental health of a nurse. However, she or he doesn’t have the liberty to dwell on these thoughts and are expected to keep working. But at times, their occupational duties can overwhelm them and in an attempt to calm their nerves, they might take to substances.
  • Nurses have an easy access to powerful opioids and other drugs. Since nurses see the positive effects of these medications on patients, they start believing that they too can use some amount of these drugs to get rid of their sleep-deprived fatigued mind and body. The repetition of this act might lead to dependence and addiction.

Consequences of addiction among registered nurses

A nurse under the influence of a substance might be disoriented when she reports working and this might incapacitate her to give her 100 percent attention to the patient, leading to worsening of the patient condition and even death. Along with her, this can greatly tarnish the image of the organization with which the nurse is associated. A patient’s death might lead to a legal course of action which might put a financial burden on the nurse and the organization. A nurse addicted to any substance might remain absent from work which can lead to financial distress.


Like any other person, if a treatment is sought, a nurse can successfully combat her addiction and addiction seeking behavior and achieve sobriety. Nurses form an important resource pool for any hospital, thus, nurses must be provided with therapy instead of termination letters.

  • At present, 37 states in the U.S. offer direct treatment for the nurses grappling with substance abuse and help them re-enter workplace.
  • There are some programs that monitor the recovery of a nurse and help her transition smoothly into the working culture.
  • Further, there are some strong recovery services, which render extensive one-to-one bio-behavioral therapy. This might also comprise an in-patient or an outpatient detox program in safe settings, dissemination of knowledge regarding addiction repercussions, arranging for family therapy and instituting a relapse prevention
  • However, sometimes the nursing board might nullify the license of a nurse if he or she poses a grave threat to the safety and well-being of patients.

Road to recovery

The American Nurses Association (ANA) is a staunch supporter of extending support to impaired nurses through peer assistance or alternative programs that closely monitor the progress of addiction treatment in a nurse and then help her navigate into her workforce again.

People from medical professional have inhumanely long hours and they too are prone to serious stress. They might turn to alcohol or any substance for coping with the pressure. However, it is important to remember that addiction-forming substances are temporary solutions, capable of wrecking an individual completely. Therefore, one should resort to alternative methods of stress alleviation like listening to music, going for a swim, playing a game, and so on.

If you know someone suffering from drug addiction and need immediate help, contact the California Drug Addiction Helpline. Our representatives can guide you to the finest addiction treatment centers in California. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-980-1946 or chat online with our experts to know more about the state-of-the-art drug rehab centers in California.


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