Authored by Elliott Redwine, | Medically Reviewed by Dr. Elizabeth Drew, MD
Last Updated: August 18, 2021

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?

Drug and Alcohol Rehab Programs for Nurses

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.

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

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

This is by no means a full list but gives you an idea of some possible causes for concern.

Specialized Drug and Alcohol Rehab Programs for Nurses
Drug and alcohol abuse in nurses is a serious issue because it places their patients in harm’s way. If the problem becomes serious enough or they steal medication they put themselves at risk of losing their license.

The American Nurses Association encourages a proactive, “alternative to discipline” approach to addressing substance and alcohol use disorders in nurses. Their official position statement suggests keeping the goals of retention, rehabilitation, and re-entry into professional practice at the forefront.

They have the added pressure of their career and reputation on the line when admitting to their struggles with drugs or alcohol. Returning to professional practice requires a plan of action and ongoing support. They may have to deal with licensing issues. Effective drug and alcohol rehab programs for nurses accounts for these unique needs.

Aftercare is especially important for nurses after they complete their program. Returning to their lives often means going back to the environment that produced their problem in the first place. Having an ongoing plan that includes outpatient treatment or drug and alcohol counseling offers a smoother transition process out of rehab.

Those who attend specialized drug and alcohol rehab programs for nurses see incredible rates of recovery. They receive the opportunity to work through their challenges and understand the risks of returning to drugs and alcohol. Working with nurses to provide the necessary care to get them back on track is oftentimes an effective solution.

Finding an Informed Rehab Program for Nurses

If you’re looking for a caring, knowledgeable, and informed drug and alcohol rehab programs for nurses, Peace Valley Recovery can help. Our individualized and ongoing support provides nurses with the perfect transition from a treatment environment back into their professional lives.

We take privacy concerns seriously and understand the trust it takes to attend a treatment facility as a medical professional. If you have questions about our approach to treatment, you can reach our confidential admissions line at (215) 780-1953. Peace Valley Recovery is here to support your journey from the moment you decide to ask for help.

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