A Better Today

Nurses and
Substance Abuse

Nurses are People Too: Drug & Alcohol Abuse in the Nursing Field

Nurses are the backbone of our health care system. No matter what a patient might be dealing with, nurses are always there to support their patients throughout the best and the worst situations.

They deal with stressors that are often unimaginable to the average worker. 12-hour workdays are often the norm, and their alertness during those 12-hours is critical. During it all, their main concern is to make sure that their patients receive the best care possible and are able to thrive. Nurses often work long work hours with rotating shifts and emergency overtime expectations that are physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting. Nearly everyone who met the criteria also tested positive for nurse burnout syndrome (BOS).

According to the Journal of Clinical Nursing, approximately 20 percent of nurses struggle with an addiction to drugs or alcohol. A survey of 2,700 certified registered nurse anesthetists with 10 and 20 years of practice under their belts revealed nearly 9% misused opioids and more than 4 % misused midazolam, a sedative.

Even though nurses go through so much, they often do not get the support that they need. This leads to nurses finding other ways to cope with their stressors, which can, in the long run, lead to an addiction.

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From physical pain to emotional struggles, nurses are constantly suffering during their workday and they often have to suffer in silence. Even though they spend their day caring for others, nurses rarely have the resources that they need to take care of themselves.

ER and Hospital Nurses: A High-Stress Workplace

Nurses within ERs and hospitals experience high levels of stress at all times. This stress is often unpredictable and can lead to a detrimental effect on their mental health. For example, a 2013 study done within a hospital in the Iranian city of Bandar Abbas found that there was a high level of occupational stress among ICU nurses.

There was also a significant relationship between occupational stress and mental health, including particular issues like anxiety, social dysfunction, and depression. A 2015 study conducted a survey within two teaching hospitals in Sydney, Australia supported these struggles in the nursing field. The statistics surrounding mental health diagnoses were low; about 14% reported a history of mental health disorders. On the other hand, possible symptoms were considerably higher: 65.1% reported that they experienced symptoms sometimes or often within the last 12 months that could possibly indicate a mental health issue.

The grueling physical nature of nursing can also have an effect on a nurse’s mental health as well. A 2013 study found that nurses who consistently work the night shift report more insomnia than others who work during the day time. Since nurses are on their feet all day, there’s a high prevalence of foot and ankle pain within the nursing profession.

Nurses and Stimulants: The Struggle to Stay Alert

Most nurses work anywhere from 8 to 12 hours a day, adding up to 36-40 hours a week and beyond. Throughout their long hours, they have to make sure that they’re alert at all times in order to cater to their patients in a safe and sufficient manner. Nurses often deal with emergencies and other high-stress events as well, that cause them to not be able to take the breaks that they need in order to keep working at a high level. In order to stay at their best, some nurses use stimulants.

The number of nurses who use stimulants varies drastically depending on the source. One study took a sample of undergraduate nursing students and found that 10.4% of respondents used prescription stimulants nonmedically in the past 12 months. In that same study, they concluded that over half (51.5%) of respondents screened positive on the CRAFFT, which is a test designed to find substance abuse-related problems in adolescents.

This study made a connection between prescription drug misuse and positive screenings on the CRAFFT test. In a blog written by Pamela Wible MD, she suggested that “75% of med students (and new doctors) are now on psychiatric medications.” It’s evident that there’s a problem surrounding stimulant use in nursing. Now more than ever is a perfect time to attend to this problem and protect the nurses of the present and the future from diving deeper into this addiction

How Nurses Experience PTSD

Throughout a nurse’s long and strenuous work day, they’re exposed to many different kinds of trauma. Witnessing this trauma sticks with you long after you’ve gone home for the day.

Studies have shown that post-traumatic stress disorder and burnout syndrome are common in nurses. In 2009, a survey published in Depression and Anxiety exposed that 22% of nurses displayed symptoms of PTSD and 18% of participants met the diagnostic criteria for the disorder. Both PTSD and BOS have a dramatic effect on both work and non-work related activities.

Even though a nurse may only work for a certain amount of hours, the things that they see during their workday stay with them in and out of work. ABTRS believes we need to take care of our nurses. Provide them with the medical attention they need, the therapy needed for good mental health, and the care of their community.

How Common is it for Nurses to Do Drugs and Binge Drink?

  • 1 in 10 of nurses’ are likely impaired or in recovery from addiction to drugs or alcohol.
  • Rate of drug abuse is estimated up to 5 times higher than with nonmedical professionals.
  • Substance abuse among healthcare workers is found to be equivalent or over the rate of the general population.
  • Use and diversion of drugs are significant in the healthcare profession.
  • U.S. BLS expects to need 1.1 million new RNs to avoid a nurse shortage.
  • All states project growth of at least 11% annually through 2022.

Nurses and Prescription Drugs: The Temptation of Painkillers

Long hours come with both physical and mental pain for nurses. From the prevalence of foot and ankle pain among nurses to recurring headaches, nurses have to deal with a world of discomfort in order to maintain their footing within their job. Some nurses then struggle with prescription drug abuse in order to minimize their pain. Within their job, they may have easy access to prescription pills that they believe can make them better. Once they steal the prescription pills for the first time, this may lead to a vicious cycle of illegal acts including abusing them and even selling them to get by.

If they get caught, the consequences that come are even more substantial. The nurse’s career is completely ruined. They’ll often get their license taken away, and will never be able to be a nurse again. That’s money, time, and passion gone away forever because a nurse decided to go down the wrong road. But, this path doesn’t have to be the only one available for nurses.

The FMLA allows for eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave.

How Nurses Can Use FMLA For Self-Care

When working in such an emotionally draining field such as nursing, self-care plays a large part in making sure a nurse’s mental health remains in great shape. One way for a nurse to take part in some much-needed self-care is to utilize the Family and Medical Leave Act (or FMLA).

Under this law, nurses get 12 workweeks of leave during a twelvemonth period for a variety of different reasons, including caring for a newborn child, caring for a child, parent, or spouse that has a serious medical condition, and caring for a child in foster care. Additionally, a nurse can utilize the FMLA to cater to a “serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job.”

This particular reason makes it great for nurses to get the time that they need to refuel and come back to their profession better than ever. During this time period, you also get the group insurance benefits that your job gives to you as well. A nurse can take the time allotted for them to handle any issues that they may be dealing with and get the care that they need to take care of themselves.

What is Intermittent FMLA?

Nurses can use Intermittent FMLA for this type of outpatient treatment. The best part about using Intermittent FMLA is that is completely confidential to all management, supervisors, and employees.

Instead of leaving for the full 12 months, intermittent FMLA is an option for employees who want to use FMLA leave in a more flexible way. For example, FMLA is often used for surgeries or medical procedures that require a length of consecutive leave time. Intermittent FMLA leave involves using days or hours, broken down into increments over the year. So, if you were doing physical therapy or outpatient services and it required you to take off of work 3 hours early to make these appointments or session, Intermittent FMLA would be what you would utilize.

Intermittent FMLA can also be used to care for a family member with a serious illness or receive treatments over time. When an employee who suffers from a condition or illness that causes “flare-ups” or periods of time where they cannot work is another incident where intermittent FMLA is utilized.

ABTRS Provides Intensive Outpatient Services for Nurses

If you’re a nurse who’s currently dealing with an addiction, A Better Today Recovery Services offers a wide variety of services to help you down the road to recovery. With our intensive outpatient services, you can schedule your recovery around your work schedule so your life doesn’t have to miss a beat.

We understand that many of our patients don’t have the ability to stop their life for 45 to 90 days in order to focus on their recovery. Our intensive outpatient services give you the opportunity to work through your addiction and learn more about how to take the next step into sobriety. We offer inpatient services for a variety of different substances including alcohol, prescription pills, and stimulants. During our services, you will work with one of our professional therapists and nurses in order to learn the “why” behind your addiction and learn about healthy coping methods.

You don’t have to go through this journey to recovery alone, and that’s why we, at A Better Today Recovery Services, can help. As a nurse, you spend your day taking care of others. It’s time to put in the time that you need to take care of yourself.

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Reliable Sources Matter to ABTRS

At ABTRS, we believe it is important to use reputable sources when communicating with our patients, their families, and potential clientele. Therefore, we have built all our information, statistics, treatment modalities, and practices on reliable resources that are supported by data, scientific methodology and/or testing. A strong foundation for recovery should be built upon the knowledge that is impartial, not funded by organizations that could benefit from certain outcomes, and proven or tested to be effective for substance abuse treatment and aftercare. Below are the sources used to construct the content on our website and any and all written material from ABTRS. We will continue to try to provide our patients and their families with reputable sources that are up to date and relevant.

Addressing Chemically Dependent Colleagues Volume 2/Issue 2 July 2011. Retrieved from https://www.ncsbn.org/Addressing_Chemically_Dependent.pdf

Mealer, M., Burnham, E. L., Goode, C. J., Rothbaum, B., & Moss, M. (2009). The prevalence and impact of post-traumatic stress disorder and burnout syndrome in nurses. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2919801/

The Opioid Crisis and the Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist: How Can We Help. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.aana.com/docs/default-source/aana-journal-web-documents-1/guest-editorial—the-opioid-crisis-and-the-certified-registered-nurse-anesthetist—how-can-we-help.pdf?sfvrsn=76ad4ab1_4

Toney-Butler TJ, Siela D. Recognizing Alcohol and Drug Impairment in the Workplace in Florida. (2018). Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507774/

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