Substance Abuse and Addiction Treatment Among Nurses

Substance Abuse and Addiction Treatment Among Nurses
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By Stephanie R. Hughes MSN, APRN, Regional Director of Nursing, Pinnacle Treatment Centers

Substance abuse and addiction among nurses is a growing concern in America and around the world. Between the stresses of the job and easy access to drugs, nurses are especially at risk for developing harmful addictions that can cause lasting damage to relationships, put patients at risk, and destroy their careers. Check out our guide to learn more about nurses and addiction.

Tired female nurse in hospital corridor

How Many Nurses are Addicted to Drugs?

You may be wondering: How many nurses are addicted to drugs?

According to studies, an estimated 1 in 10 nurses is addicted to drugs or suffers from alcohol abuse. These rates are similar to the average rates among other members of the population; however, nurses are more likely to develop an addiction to prescription drugs.

Why Are Nurses at Risk for Addiction?

So why are nurses at risk for addiction? There are many reasons for this trend in America and across the globe. First, nurses have easier access to drugs due to their work environment and close proximity to prescriptions and other controlled substances. In fact, nurses are at higher risk of developing an addiction when their place of work gains greater access to controlled substances.

Another reason nurses are at risk for addiction is because of the high-pressure work environment. Many nurses work in busy hospitals or are overburdened with high patient loads and long hours. Continual stress can put a person at higher risk of substance abuse, and this trend holds up among nurses.

Other factors that increase the risk of addiction include gender (women are more likely to develop intense addictions once they use drugs, and the vast majority of nurses are women), lack of education about substance abuse, and general fatigue and pain associated with the job of being a nurse.

Signs of Addiction Among Nurses

The first step to reducing the rates of substance abuse and addiction among nurses is learning the various symptoms and common signs of addiction. When friends, family, and colleagues are able to spot these signs, they are better equipped to get nurses the help they need.

Nurses who struggle with addiction often become defensive, isolated, and irritable—both in the workplace and at home. They may begin to slack on the job and have trouble completing tasks. 

On the flip side, they might come into work even when they are not scheduled, ask for overtime hours, or constantly offer to administer medications to patients (in order to access drugs). This can be a difficult symptom to spot, since many coworkers may assume the nurse is showing exemplary dedication to their job.

Doctor opening throat examiner while preparing to examination

Other signs and symptoms of addiction among nurses include:

  • Incorrect counts on medications or narcotics
  • Waiting to open drugs until alone
  • Poor coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Many trips to the bathroom
  • Carelessness on the job
  • Poor memory and attention span
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Asking coworkers for prescriptions
  • Poor hygiene or unkempt appearance
  • Slacking on the job (or over-dedication to the job)
  • Leaving work early or frequently during a shift
  • Alcohol on the breath
  • Lateness or absence from work
  • Hand tremors
  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue

Stages of Addiction Among Nurses

Most nurses who suffer from addiction go through the same five phases of substance abuse, including:

  1. Initial contact with the drug (enjoyment of drug use)
  2. Occasional, experimental drug use
  3. Excessive drug use to chase a high
  4. Addiction to the drug (even if the nurse wants to stop)
  5. Recovery from drug addiction

Treatment Options for Nurses Who Are Addicted to Drugs

Young woman doctor holding hand of senior grandmother patient, closeup

Many nurses who are struggling with a drug addiction are at risk of facing disciplinary consequences from their workplace. However, most state nursing boards allow nurses to enroll in recovery programs or sign up for peer support instead of facing disciplinary consequences. Addiction treatment centers are another effective way of helping nurses handle their addiction.

Contact Pinnacle Treatment Centers Today

If you or a nurse you know is struggling with a drug or alcohol problem, contact Pinnacle Treatment Centers today. We offer drug rehab programs tailored to the unique needs of nurses, helping to treat the physical, psychological, and emotional aspects of the addiction. Get in touch to learn more about how to start the journey out of addiction and into healing.

The materials provided on the Pinnacle Blog are for information and educational purposes only. No behavioral health or any other professional services are provided through the Blog and the information obtained through the Blog is not a substitute for consultation with a qualified health professional. If you are in need of medical or behavioral health treatment, please contact a qualified health professional directly, and if you are in need of emergency help, please go to your nearest emergency room or dial 911.