It takes a special kind of person to become a nurse. The profession requires passion, poise, and a profound expertise of what works best for patient treatment and subsequent healing. 12-hour shifts are routine, and they regularly turn into longer than that. Nights. Weekends. Holidays. Around-the-clock care means many of these occasions are forfeited.

If the investment of time weren’t enough, nurses are subjected to grueling work each day. Hospitals are stressful settings, and the prevalence of sickness, death, and tragedy has an effect on anyone’s psyche. Nurses are strong. They are often able to work through it or hide their own feelings. After all, the patient comes first.

Nurses and Substance Abuse

Over 300,000 nurses in the United States suffer from dependence and addiction. Roughly 1 in 10 of these health care heroes is suffering, oftentimes silently so. This is a startling realization. Just like with the general population, substance use disorders can dismantle finances, careers, relationships, health, and endless other precious things in life. With nurses, however, there are additional dangerous consequences, like the potential impact on patients. Both doctors and nurses take and uphold similar oaths. Bringing an addiction into the hospital environment — a place where others are dealing with these same issues — is seen as an ethical violation of duty.

Why Do Nurses Abuse Substances?

Substance abuse among nurses sometimes stems from self-treatment. This starts with an individual diagnosing themselves and believing, based on their medical know-how, they can heal themselves with medication. Such actions set a dangerous precedent; nurses are then more likely to believe they have a handle on the situation even if things are clearly spiraling out of control. It creates a sort of cognitive dissonance. They know substance use disorders are hazardous but that their expertise counteracts the behavior.

There can be no discussion on addiction within the field of nursing without mentioning accessibility. Very few other professions place individuals within such close proximity to so many highly addictive substances. While alcohol is the most commonly misused product by nurses, medicines that are meant to heal can quickly become a nightmare. Benzos. Amphetamines. Opioids. All prescription medications are within reach.

Signs of On-the-Job Drug Use for Nurses:

Numerous signs of on-the-job abuse exist. Though, it can be expressly difficult to identify such trends among nurses for one simple fact: they are experts on the subject matter. Many instances of nurses’ substance use disorders go unreported, and unnoticed because they are able to put on a façade until things become too late. An observant co-worker will need to be extra attentive. Indicators include:

  • Lethargy
  • Easily distracted
  • Secretive or suspicious behavior
  • Mood changes
  • Consistently choosing less-supervised shifts (often during the night)
  • Slurred words
  • Jerky movements and twitching
  • Making strange claims or excuses
  • Random bouts of increased productivity

Just because nurses provide immunities does not mean that they themselves are immune. For all their strength and fortitude, even nurses have to come to terms with the trauma they experience. If this isn’t done in a healthy way, then the alternative can be a more destructive coping mechanism. National nursing organizations have programs in place to help nurses through their trying times. Best of all, most nurses are able to return to a career of helping others once they’ve overcome this life obstacle.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.