The Risk of Substance Abuse Among Nurses

by | Jun 19, 2021 | Addiction | 0 comments

While we may view the people who care for our health as superheroes, they can fall victim to the same issues and concerns that affect regular people, including substance abuse challenges. In fact, an estimated 10% of workers in the nursing profession will misuse drugs or alcohol at some point during their careers. What puts health care providers at such risk for substance use disorder (SUD) and what can be done to help?

Why Nurses are at Risk

There are multiple factors that make nurses as susceptible, if not more, to substance abuse than other professions. For one, nurses have far greater access to controlled substances than non-healthcare workers. Nurses also work long and stressful jobs where they are responsible for others’ health and wellbeing. This type of chronic stress has been shown to increase an individual’s likelihood of developing a SUD.

Finally, there are the physical demands that come from being a nurse. Nurses must regularly bend, stretch and lift patients in addition to walking and being on their feet for long periods during their workdays. Add in the potential for fatigue due to long hours, and nurses have an increased risk for issues with drugs or alcohol.

Warning Signs of Substance Abuse in Nurses

Because of the stress connected to the nursing profession, it may not always be easy to spot the warning signs of a problem with drugs or alcohol. Typically, the symptoms a nurse may display will fall into three categories: behavior changes, physical symptoms, and possible drug diversion.

Behavioral changes include:

  • Extended work absences
  • Frequent bathroom breaks
  • Arriving to work late or leaving early
  • Making a large number of mistakes, particularly medication errors

Physical symptoms to look for include:

  • Small changes in appearance that become more pronounced
  • Growing distance between the person and their colleagues
  • Verbal or emotional responses to situations that are inappropriate
  • Lapses in memory, increasing confusion, or a lack of alertness

Finally, because of their ready access to drugs, nurses who are experiencing a substance use problem may start to divert medicines via incorrect counts of controlled substances, wasting controlled substances, or frequent reports of patients with ineffective pain relief. Other signs of drug diversion to watch for include an increased number of medication record corrections, altered verbal or phone medication orders, offers to medicate other nurse’s patients for pain, and variations among drug discrepancies among certain shifts or days of the week.

Luckily, it’s possible for nurses to recover from addiction and return to their jobs. In fact, one study found that nurses with SUD who take part in a recovery program have a higher rate of long-term success than non-nurses who seek treatment for their SUD.

Our treatment philosophy at Bridges of Hope is based on a comprehensive and integrated approach to addressing all issues related to substance use and mental health disorders. Utilizing therapeutically proven, evidence-based clinical practices, Bridges of Hope provides superior patient care in Indiana through our all-inclusive treatment services.