Drug and Alcohol Rehab Programs for Nurses

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Peace Valley Recovery is located in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Our mission is to provide patient-centered care that focuses on healing and recovery from addiction. This blog provides information, news, and uplifting content to help people in their recovery journey.

Authored by Elliott Redwine, | Medically Reviewed by Peace Valley Recovery Editorial Staff,
Last Updated: March 5, 2023

Drug and alcohol abuse affects every section of the population. There is no all-encompassing picture of what someone who battles with drug addiction or alcoholism looks like. They have no regard for age, gender, race, education level, income bracket, or occupation.

But some might be surprised to learn that alcohol and drug abuse also affect registered nurses. According to the American Nurses Association, an estimated 10 percent of RNs have a problem with drug or alcohol dependence. Another study suggests that as many 14 to 20 percent of nurses are dependent on drugs or alcohol.

These alarming statistics are an incredible cause for concern. There is a clear problem among nurses. Still, nurses need the same assistance and support as every other individual who cannot control their drinking or using.

Thankfully, certain rehab facilities provide individualized programs specifically for nurses and other medical personnel. Although they experience higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, nurses also show low relapse rates and high recovery rates after treatment. How do drug and alcohol rehab programs for nurses provide them with the help they need?

Why Do Nurses Turn to Alcohol and Drugs?

Depending on their specialty, most medical personnel see some awful, overwhelming, and gruesome sights. They handle and care for the outcome of countless possible scenarios from accidents and injuries to diseases and more.

Though they get used to the intensity of their profession over time, they still witness plenty of unimaginable scenarios. They learn to calmly care for patients under incredible amounts of pressure and stress at times. There are deaths, resuscitations, end-of-life discussions, and verbal abuse.

And these aren’t always without repercussions. Multiple studies show that as many as 28 percent of nurses experience post-traumatic stress disorder at least once during their career. One study from the Journal of Heart and Lung Transplantation revealed that up to 48 percent of critical care nurses qualified for a PTSD diagnosis.

There are immense demands placed upon nurses throughout their entire career, even in those who don’t develop PTSD. Some nurses turn to alcohol or drugs as a way to blunt the impact of the things they deal with daily. It gives them a way to unwind from the tension of their job.

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What starts as a glass of wine or a mixed drink at the end of the day could build into a bigger habit over time, though. Those who aren’t careful may cross the line from casual use to abuse or dependence. Then even bigger problems arise when the effects of their drinking or drug use start affecting their performance at work.

Signs of Substance or Alcohol Abuse in Nurses

Alcohol use is one problem among nurses but prescription drug addiction is another major concern. RNs have extensive access to a wide range of strong prescription medication. They face triggers and temptations that most others do not deal with.

Nurses are well aware of what to look for when it comes to addiction and alcoholism. Their extensive education and experience make it easier for them to hide their problem for longer than most people could.

Once their dependence deepens, though, it gets more difficult to keep their struggles hidden. Are you concerned a nurse you know may have a possible problem with substance or alcohol abuse? There are some clear and some subtle signs of substance or alcohol abuse in nurses to look out for:

  • Smelling like alcohol
  • Excessive use of gum, mints, or mouthwash
  • Glassy eyes
  • Small pupils
  • Unexplained absences
  • Frequent bathroom breaks
  • Falling asleep on the job
  • Subtle or drastic changes in work performance
  • Recurring problems with finances, relationships, or family
  • Noticeable preference for night shifts (less supervision/easier access to medication)
  • Regularly volunteering to administer narcotics
  • Repeated errors in charting, documentation, or other paperwork
  • Overly friendly with prescribing doctors