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Substance Abuse among Nurses

Substance Abuse Among NursesNurses in all specialty areas are at incredibly high vulnerability for substance abuse and addiction. The nursing profession is among those most common plagued by drug abuse. Data from the National Council on State Boards of Nursing indicates that around 10 percent of all employed nursing suffer from some level of substance use disorder. The Council also reports that many cases of substance abuse in nursing go unreported, which means that the problem may be larger than people realize. Without proper intervention and treatment for the physical and behavioral impact of their substance use disorder, nurses who are struggling with addiction run a dangerously high risk of putting their patients, their colleagues and themselves in harm’s way.

What Drives Substance Abuse among Nurses?


The life-and-death stress, physical rigors of non-stop marathon workdays, depression over losing patients and often-toxic workplace culture are just some of the unique factors that contribute to substance use disorder in the nursing community. Data published by Psychology Today indicates that 40 percent of nurses who were disciplined for substance abuse used prescription medication to control chronic pain conditions and 42.5 percent of them used substances for emotional problems. Research from the University of Kentucky indicates that registered nurses suffer from depression at nearly twice the rate of folks in other professions. Nurses also suffer from higher rates of anxiety relative to other professionals.

Nurses are consistently on the front lines of healthcare and are often forced to make life-or-death decisions multiple times per day. Poor patient outcomes often lead to self-medication with alcohol and other drugs. Combine these phenomena with the reality that the traditional night-shift schedule for a hospital-based nurse is typically two or three consecutive 12-hour shifts, and it’s easy to see how the physical and psychological pitfalls of the profession can lead to addiction and substance abuse.

A Tough Pill to Swallow: Escalated Rates of Prescription Drug Addiction


Another primary driver of substance abuse among nurses is the ready availability of prescription painkillers, benzodiazepines and stimulants.

It’s common for nurses who are ensnared in prescription drug dependency to divert drugs from their hospitals or clinics in the following ways:

• Taking Leftover Supplies for their Own Personal Use
• Taking Excess Drugs from As-Needed Medication Orders
• Withholding Drugs from Patients In Order to Take Them for Themselves
• Administering a Replacement Drug Like Saline Solution So Patients Don’t Know

If you or someone you care about is a nurse who is engaging this behavior, it’s only a matter of time before it catches up to you. Data indicates that suspensions of registered nurses for substance use violations are up 28 percent over the last 12 months.

Treating Substance Abuse in Nurses


The issues that lead to alcohol and drug addiction among the nursing population are different than those of any other, and they need to be treated as such. This means targeted, comprehensive treatment to address the root causes and sustaining factors of their addiction, as well as medically supervised detoxification to help them overcome their acute withdrawal symptoms and any associated medical conditions. Hospital systems are providing increasingly robust treatment options, but many still lack the intuitiveness needed to effectively address the behavioral health issues that lead to it.

Part of the problem with treating nurses for addiction is that they’re members of the care community themselves may have a difficulty embracing the treatment experience because they have the “burden of knowledge”. Nurses are used to solving patients’ problems on the front lines of care every day, and it can be difficult for them to accept that they have a problem, much less let someone else take care of them. They have a hard time assuming the role of patient.

Another challenge in treating nurses for substance use disorder is the narrow choice they often face when pursuing medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Care providers are often reluctant to prescribe buprenorphine (Suboxone®) because of the potential for diversion and abuse. As a result, they’re usually only able to take Vivitrol® (long-acting naltrexone). Vivitrol is administered through monthly injections and has been a game-changing resource in the treatment of opioid use disorder. It is meant to be delivered alongside other elements of care, like rehab and counseling.

Don’t Let Addiction Destroy Your Nursing Career


If you’re a nurse that is struggling with substance use disorder, The Ridge is ready to help you take your life and your career back. We specialize in helping members of the nursing community overcome their addiction so they can return to being the brilliant, capable and invested caretakers they were prior to their addiction. Our staff is standing by right now to conduct a full insurance verification and get you or your loved one on the road to treatment.

Call us today at 513.613.4026 to learn more about what we can do for you. We’re waiting to help.

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