Nursing Blog

Addiction….. We Are Not Immune




1 in 3 people today have been personally affected by the disease of addiction per current statistics. I happen to think it’s even more than that.  If you are fortunate enough to have escaped either struggling with it personally or being close to someone who has, then you are quite lucky.  Addiction is now an issue of epidemic proportions as evidenced by broadcasts, stories, podcasts etc. that flood media outlets on a daily basis.  Unless you live completely off the grid you cannot help but know about this growing problem.  Every day the local, as well as national news, seems to be airing a new video of people overdosing.  Images of lines of people in front of methadone clinics waiting for their dose in an attempt to manage their addiction come across the screen nightly.

We see the addictions effects for ourselves every day.  Clinics are popping up in every major city or town.  Marijuana is becoming legal or already is in many states.  What about the warehouse liquor stores popping up on every corner?  We don’t discuss this as much as alcohol is legal; however, alcohol kills more people than all other drugs combined.  And sadly we are abusing it more than ever.  Addiction in the world today is obviously a real problem.  I think we can all agree on that.  And the stereotype of what an addict looks like is changing.  We used to think of addicts as people who are living under a bridge or squatting in some abandoned building who are dirty, homeless and strung out.  Or someone who has multiple DUI’s swigging out of a bottle in the gutter.  These examples are the minority percentage of those suffering from the horrors of this affliction as most can blend in quite nicely; at least for awhile.  I think collectively, society is slowly starting to realize that addiction comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, professions, and gender. Socioeconomic status isn’t necessarily a factor in addiction either.  An addict could very well be the person who appears to have it all together and the last person that you would ever guess was one.

Professionals in the medical field, including nurses, are not immune.  In fact, nurses are at greater risk of abusing substances than the average joe.  One would think a nurse would “know better” as they are well aware of the risks associated with using these substances.  They also see addictions disastrous effects consistently in their career.  So why would they take the risk?  It’s hard to say, as everyone has a different story, but there could be a few contributing factors.

Nurses not only are at greater risk for substance abuse but they are also at risk for depression.  In fact, they are two times more likely than the average person to suffer from depression which is something to consider.  Again, in regards to depression just like addiction, nurses know the signs and symptoms as well as the risk factors of this disease so why aren’t they recognizing it when it’s staring at them in the mirror?  One possibility is that it is very hard to be objective when it comes to ourselves.  Nurses may have excellent assessment and critical thinking skills when it comes to their patients, but that can fall by the wayside when they are looking within.  Another thought is that the signs and symptoms of depression are similar to those that can be dismissed as “just a bad day on the job,” at least for awhile. Fatigue, stress, trouble sleeping and anxiety nurses can easily attribute these things as being par for the course in their career many days.  Nursing is a stressful job and extremely overwhelming at times, often you find that you can’t help but take it all home with you.  Is it depression or is it just the career that you have chosen?  This is not always easy to decipher and easier to disregard until you can’t anymore and maybe you find yourself managing by self-medicating.

But we know better than that.  Don’t we?

Maybe we know so much as nurses that some of us can become less afraid of it.  We administer these medications constantly.  Maybe some of us lose that healthy “fear” of these powerful drugs because we have an ongoing relationship with them.  Nurses aren’t the stereotypical junkies shooting up with dirty needles, coping some unknown substance in an alley way from god knows who.  We as nurses have access to pharmaceuticals that are regulated.  These drugs come in crisp, clean packaging directly mixed or filled by a licensed pharmacist.  We have access to clean paraphernalia.  We know the mechanisms and actions of these drugs.  We are experts in the half lives, the side effects and everything in-between.  Maybe here in lies a bit of a temptation to dance with the devil because we know the devil so well.

Where do you turn if you are in the medical field and looking for help for an addiction?

This is a real problem.  A nurse or licensed medical professional suffering from addiction will find there is a lack of available help while active in their career.  There is also a greater need for anonymity for us as well, which may cause us to further spiral, as it is well known successful treatment is achieved most often from the support of others who have been through it or a licensed professional who specializes in the issue.  Going it alone has an extremely low success rate.  Many hospitals and hospital entities that employ nurses offer employee assistance which does offer counseling, but I was shocked to learn after reading an excellent article on the website CRACKED, that a nurse actively employed who reports struggling with addiction may be reported, as that is a mandatory reporting situation.

Medical professionals knowing this will obviously be deterred to seek help which in turn will continue to put themselves and the lives of their patients in danger to protect their livelihood.  Massachusetts has a program through the board of nursing called SARP, substance abuse rehabilitation program, that is for nurses turned in by an employer but nurses can also voluntarily enter.  It’s a five-year program with mandatory meetings and drug testing where in at the end nurses are free and clear to work unrestricted.


What is the answer to this problem?  Noone knows for sure and it’s unlikely there is only one.  What are your thoughts on nurses and addiction?


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