Nurses and Addiction
Nurses are usually the first person to attend to a sick or injured individual in a hospital, and even in some medical office visits.
They soothe, they heal, and they comfort the patient in their time of need. But what about the nurses themselves? Who heals them?
A high-stress work environment, long hours, physician shortages and being away from their own families can take a toll on nurses.
In an attempt to self-medicate the anxiety, stress and, sometimes, pain they experience daily on the job, some nurses turn to drugs for relief.
Oftentimes they work double shifts and are deprived of sleep and they would like some help to stay awake or alert when on the job. Some drugs, such as stimulants, help them to stay awake and alert.
Unfortunately, nurses have easy access to addictive medications as they are the ones usually responsible for fulfilling doctor’s orders for every patient on their watch. Some of them end up diverting medication intended for their patients and abuse them.
Nurses face such unbelievable high levels of stress every single day, often all day. In many cases they fulfill the role of a physician and that of a nurse. In emergency rooms, nurses may see more injuries and accidents in a week than most of us do in our lifetimes.
Imagine having to treat badly injured patients in critical condition day in and day out. It ends up traumatizing the caregivers. No wonder that a good portion of the nurses who work in the emergency department are diagnosed with PTSD.
The stress and the heavy workload on the job, could also cause problems at home, as they are absent for long periods of time – it is not a 9-5 job! The family feels neglected and may demand more of their time, which, given their job responsibilities only adds to the stress.
The ability to mute their personal life and perform on the job eventually takes an incredible toll on them. Many nurses exhibit both, physical and mental symptoms from stress.
Long hours, double shifts, and rotating schedules are major contributors to fatigue, which makes them vulnerable to substance abse. Not only do nurses have easy access to the types of medication they need to cope, but they are also knowledgeable about the effects of these medications and are more far more likely to abuse them.
Many of the nurses who confide to self-medicating cite mental health issues as a reason. One survey showed 63% of nurses asked suffered both physical and mental health issues due to the stress of their jobs. The easy access to a variety of medications leads to a temptation to self-medicate.
Addiction among nurses is higher than the national average. As a result of they may become distracted, make mistakes, or miss shifts. Consequently, it is important for nurses to seek treatment for their addiction and enter recovery.
Nurses need long-term treatment for addiction because the stressors at work are not going to go away and treatment needs to be continued even after they return to work after the initial acute phase of treatment, detoxification.
Helping The Caregivers
Many hospitals are incorporating addiction programs for their staff, helping them cope with their addictions and offering special placement when they return back to work. In New Jersey the nursing board has a program called RAMP, Recovery and Monitoring Program that helps nurses afflicted by the disease of addiction enter treatment.
Nurses can be supported after returning to work by pairing them with other nurses who are further along in their recover and can provide peer support. This could help reduce the chances of relapse.
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