Even Nurses Aren’t Immune to Addiction

Published on May 6, 2019
Mountainside Canaan Aerial Shot

Canaan, CT – This National Nurses Week, Mountainside celebrates nursing professionals across America for the lifesaving care they provide every day. The holiday is also a reminder that nurses often sacrifice their own well-being to meet the needs of their patients, increasing their susceptibility to addiction and other chronic diseases.

Approximately four million registered nurses serve in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and behavioral health centers across the nation. During a typical day, nurses face many physical and emotional demands as they care for vulnerable patients and comfort distressed family members. Over time, occupational stress leads some nurses to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, placing them at a greater risk of developing substance use disorders.

The Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services estimates that ten percent of nurses struggle with drug and alcohol addiction. While nursing professionals are well-versed about the dangers of substance use disorders, they also face unique risk factors for addiction, including burnout and close proximity to pain medications.

“It’s important that nurses recognize signs of substance misuse in themselves and their colleagues, for the sake of both the addicted nurse and their patients,” says Ashley McGee, Director of Nursing at Mountainside. “A nurse’s use may have become problematic if they show up late for work, isolate themselves from coworkers, make many errors, and divert medications.”

In a 2016 survey by the journal Substance Abuse, 40 percent of nurses in a peer health assistance program who used drugs or alcohol at work felt that their job performance was impacted by their substance use. For nurses, using mood-altering substances on the job can often be a matter of life and death, compromising their ability to deliver high-quality care.

Nurses are indispensable members of the healthcare system, but the stigma of addiction often prevents them from pursuing treatment services for themselves. The Substance Abuse study found that the most commonly reported barriers to recovery for nurses included fear and shame.

“For most nurses, caring for others comes naturally, but setting aside time for self-care can be more challenging,” says McGee. “Specialized training and the support of friends and peers can help nurses with substance use disorders become more self-aware and more invested in their own recovery.”