Addiction in the Nursing Field: When You Need to Get Help

Addiction in the Nursing Field: When You Need to Get Help

The nursing profession is taxing and usually requires working long hours, dealing with difficult situations, and working under pressure. This can be especially true now during the pandemic, as nurses are overworked and hospitals are understaffed. Different people cope with such issues differently and unfortunately some turn to drug abuse. As a result, some nurses suffer from alcohol and other drugs abuse. The problem is that they may carry on with their usual life taking care of patients even with drug abuse. This may go unnoticed for a long period of time and can lead to dangerous situations for them and their patients.  

Why is addiction in the nursing field on the rise? With a lack of coping mechanisms to deal with the stresses of our pandemic, it is not a surprise. Take a moment to assess if you may be developing an addiction. When should you seek help? How can you know if a friend or coworker is affected?  

The Start of Substance Abuse 

Like with all addicts, substance abuse among nurses begins with a nurse taking the substance for fun or to cope with stress. Alcohol, cigarettes, and other drugs are taken as a way of relaxing. Before they know it, they can no longer function without the drug of choice. They feel the urge to take more and more of it with each passing day. 

What makes nurses prone to substance abuse? They experience both emotional and physical stress as they take care of patients all day. The long hours of work leave them with lots of fatigue to deal with. They often suffer from insomnia and anxiety. Alcohol and other drugs seem to numb these issues, which encourages their use. Nurses have been known to abuse prescription medications as they have greater access to them. Painkillers and narcotics are common addictive drugs. The initial use of the medication is usually for an ailment or symptoms.  

Over time, the nurse gets used to feeling caused by the effects of the drug and they keep using it. Other nurses like anesthetists misuse drugs with the aim of feeling the same effects these drugs have on patients. Opioids and sedatives are commonly abused for this reason. With prescription medicine being easily accessible, nurses can easily buy or steal whatever they want. 

Signs of Addiction 

Nurses are extremely knowledgeable and they can hide their addictions very well. Unlike other people, they may be able to balance work, family, and addictions well for a long time. On the other hand, catching addictions early is important for quick recovery. You need to be keen about your actions and those of your colleagues so as to know when to seek help. 

Frequent bathroom trips, unkempt appearance, weight loss, and fatigue are some physical signs that may indicate addiction. Stock count errors at all times a particular nurse is on duty may mean that they are misusing drugs. Patients who do not seem to gain expected pain relief from prescribed medication may mean that the nurse did not give adequate medication. The rest may have ended up in the nurse’s body. If such circumstances keep repeating themselves, investigations need to be carried out thoroughly. 

Emotional outbursts such as extreme anger or laughter outbursts are signs of substance abuse. Insomnia and hyperactivity may also be noted depending on the drug being abused. Truancy and lateness may also indicate alcohol and other forms of drug abuse. Also, watch out for the pungent smell of alcohol on colleagues. 

At a personal level, nurses who take prescription medicine for longer than prescribed should get help. If you note that you are often depending on a substance, you need to get help. 

Addiction Treatment for Nurses 

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing has stipulated what should happen in cases of suspected drug abuse among nurses . An investigation needs to be carried out and the truth exposed. The addicted staff should be assisted to get the help they need and later reintegrate back to work, though under strict watch.  

But, look before you leap to an SBN. Check with someone you trust first, as different state boards have different policies. One place to inquire is at the Minneapolis Nurses Peer Support Network. Even if you don’t live in Minnesota, members of the NPSN want to help fellow nurses and they respect your confidentiality. They KNOW what you’re going through and, well؅—“Nurses Peer Support Network” says it all. See their video below. https://youtu.be/sp2JNjWZd3E 

Why should you get treated for drug addictions? It is a disease that can only be resolved through proper treatment. You are not your normal self when you use drugs. You may find yourself more irritable and treating colleagues and family members wrongly. You may also underperform at work and cause medical errors that can have dire consequences. 

Drug rehabilitation programs can help nurses get their lives back on track. By enrolling for one, your drug levels are monitored and the body detoxifies slowly. You will also learn how to avoid triggers, return to work and avoid future relapses. There are many rehabs in Southern California or near where you live. Just enroll at one that allows you to have a customized treatment plan and start the road to recovery. 


Addiction in the nursing field is a real concern. Its effects are dire with the extremes being death dues to negligence at work. The nurse will also suffer at a personal level and so will their families. Suspected addiction cases among nurses should be treated as soon as possible.