Professor Mary Martin
Nursing 3423 Leadership and Management
June 22, 2013
Dealing with Chemically Impaired Nurses
Florence Nightingale once wrote that the elements of nursing are all but unknown. We are identified as caregivers. We know that our jobs do not end at physical care. We hand out medications, tissues, fashion advice, patient education, and maybe even transportation directions. Nurses treat chemically dependant patients all the time. How do you deal when that patient is one of your own? What happens when the nurse becomes the patient?
Substance abuse is defined as the overindulgence in or dependence on an addictive substance, esp. alcohol or drugs. Marquis and Houston defines substance misuse as involving “maladaptive patterns of psychoactive substance abuse, with the substance user continuing use in the face of recurrent occupational, social, psychological, or physical problems, and/or dangerous situations” Houston (p582). Some view this addiction as a disease while others consider it a weakness. Unfortunately in the public eye, either way it isn’t a situation that a “nurse” should find herself in. Nurses are viewed as the supermen of healthcare.
Unfortunately even superman had his kryptonite. There are several reasons why a nurse may fall susceptible to a drug or alcohol addiction. Family plays a major part in shaping our lives, morals, characteristics, and habits. If there are members of your family who have history of dependency, you are at a higher risk of abusing a substance yourself. According to Talbert (2009) “Nurses who have family history of emotional impairment, alcoholism, drug use, or emotional abuse, resulting in low self esteem, overwork, and overachievement are at greater risk for using or abusing substances”.
Another reason a nurse might find herself abusing a substance stems from the stress of work. Talbert (2009) tells us “nurses tend to be described as ‘workaholics’ and may not be able to deal with the stress the work brings”. Many of times we hear about this “shortage” in nursing. This in turn leads to staffing issues. Nursing units are understaffed. They are then forced to either work more hours are do double the work. Too many times we hear nurses complaining about staffing. I’ve even heard pros and several cons to the ‘12 hour shift’. Some feel that 12 hours is too long for one person to be awake and alert enough to care for another without mistakes presenting. You’ll find nurses, such as myself, who work two or three jobs, having a full time and a few per diem positions. All of this can be a physical and mental strain on someone, leading to substance abuse.
On top of the demanding hours the job takes an emotional toll on you. “In a study by Trinkoff and Storr (1998), rates of substance abuse among nurses varied by specialty... compared with women’s health, pediatrics, and general practice, emergency nurses were 3.5 times as likely to use marijuana or cocaine, oncology and administration nurses were twice as likely to engage in binge drinking; and psychiatric nurses were most likely to smoke.” Talbert (2009). Depending on the area you work in you may experience a great deal of emotional stress each workday. A perfect example would be an oncology nurse. After a while of seeing patients come and go you may be driven to depression with no solution but drug abuse. “Healthcare specialties, such as anesthesiology, are associated with increased risk for abuse of and dependency on certain classes of drugs” Wright et al (2012).
One more reason nurses fall into this addiction is availability. Lets face it, the drugs are right there at our fingertips. We administer them each day. Talbert (2009) brings up a great point that “ Nurse are trained that medications solve problems”. We learn about these drugs and their expected outcomes. We know what their side effects are. We know what effects they may have on our bodies. This knowledge and access makes it that much easier