Besides facing stress, and having easy access to medications, critical care and emergency nurses may use recreational drugs more often because they are more likely to have a sensation-seeking personality trait (www.nurseweek.com/news/98-5/25e.html)."
Getting treatment for chemical dependency will help the nurse get back to his or her daily life, however the nurse will have to address concerns and/or consequences related to the addiction. He or she faces a "multitude of traumatic experiences both potential and real, such as arrest, license suspension/revocation; negative publicity; reactions of family, friends and co-workers; fines; board and legal hearings; inability to secure work other than nursing; physical illness; and possible lack of health insurance. In the treatment setting, issues such as these add complexity to the nurse's recovery (Anderson)."
There are other complications which must be addressed during treatment of the impaired nurses. These issues include being considered a role model by everyone, having trouble becoming a patient instead of a caregiver, thinking instead of feeling, guilt over taking a patient's medication and possibly endangering the patient, and denial about the addiction due to taking prescription medications instead of street drugs. Since a nurse's work environment provides greater access to drugs, there may be concerns of a relapse upon returning to work.
In order for the impaired nurse to recover properly, it is imperative that the addiction be treated with a lot of effort and patience. It takes time for the nurse to completely resume his or her career, and will only happen after the "nurse's feelings, beliefs, values, and behaviors become integrated and harmonious (Anderson)."
Researchers believe the chemically impaired nurses should not be subjected to "demoralizing punitive action, but instead have work places sponsor treatment for the nurse (www.nurseweek.com/news/98-5/25e.html)." Studies indicate nurses who receive proper treatment have a "very good rate of recovery and ability to return to work (www.nurseweek.com/news/98-5/25e.html)."
Returning to Work
When a nurse returns to work after receiving treatment for chemical addiction, the Board of Nursing will impose certain requirements which must be adhered to during a set probationary period. These rules may "include:
The nurse's license is limited. There is no access to controlled substances for a set period of time.
Quarterly reports are provided from the employer and continuing care counselor.
Random urine drug screens from the continuing care representative, employer or Board.
The nurse may work only in a supervised setting.
If the nurse is prescribed mood-altering medication by a legitimate practitioner, it must be reported to the Board within 10 days by the ordering practitioner.
If there is a violation of the consent order, the license may be further sanctioned. The nurse must provide a copy of the consent order to the employer and any other reporting source.
If the nurse chooses not to work or works in an area other than nursing, the probationary period will not start until the nurse returns to work as a nurse.
If the nurse returns to school and is doing any clinical nursing course, the dean or director of a nursing program must have a copy of the consent order (Anderson)."
Although chemical dependency among nurses has been around for a long time, it has only recently begun to be addressed. In the past, impaired nurses and their co-workers often denied the problem, putting not only the addict in danger, but patients as well. Today there are treatment programs available to chemically impaired nurses, and with patience and support, many are experiencing a good rate of recovery. While impaired nurses must adhere to rules imposed by the Board of Nursing, they are finding they still have a career waiting on them upon successful completion of their treatment programs. Despite all the success of treatment and recovery programs, the main concern in dealing with the problem of chemically impaired nurses is prevention.
Anderson, Jenny Lynn. "Treatment considerations for the addicted nurse." Behavioral Health
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(The Impaired Nurse. (accessed 15 November, 2004).
West, Margaret May. "Early risk indicators of substance abuse among nurses." Journal of Nursing Scholarship. (2002): 22 June.