Over the years, substance abuse in the United States has become a persistent issue affecting many individuals. In 2008, it was estimated that 17.8 million Americans over the age of 18 where substance dependent (Epstein, Burns, &ump; Conlon, 2010). Many of these individuals being affected are nurses. Ponech (2000) stated that "approximately 10% of the nursing population has alcohol or drug abuse problems, and 6% has problems serious enough to interfere with their ability to practice" (as cited in Talbert, 2009, p.17). Studies show that nurses have a 50% higher rate of substance abuse compared to the rest of the public (Epstein et al., 2010). Among the many factors that contribute to the nurse’s issue of substance abuse, accessibility to drugs in the work environment has played a significant role. Substance abuse among nurses is an arising issue in need of attention, it is alarming to know that patient safety and care is in danger when a chemically impaired nurse is in the workplace.
Nurses are the ones whom trust is placed to care for the sick, but with the growing population of chemically impaired nurses, patient care is in danger. Factors that are contributing to substance abuse among nurses need to be further explored to combat the issue and provide better quality care for patients.
There are several contributing factors to substance abuse among nurses such as family, and stress. Nurses who have family members with emotional problems and inability to cope, alcoholism, and drug use, have been linked to a higher risk of substance abuse (Talbert, 2009). Coming from a family that relies on substances tempts the nurse to be chemically dependent when experiencing high job demands. "Stress in the workplace is another reason cited for nurses abusing substances" (Talbert, 2009). Stress in the workplace varies among the unit the nurse works in. As in the emergency department, nurses were 3.5 times as likely to use marijuana and cocaine (Young, 2008). Nurses are using substances as a coping mechanism to their stressful work environment. Excessive workload due to the nursing shortage, shift rotations, working longer hours and floating to different units leads nurses to high stress levels (Epstein et al., 2010). In addition to alcohol and substances nurses can access in the streets, nurses can also abuse substances at work through their patients medications.
Easy access to the drugs is another important factor contributing to nurses who substance abuse. As stated by Serghis (1999) the availability of medications in the workplace has been linked to substance abuse among nurses (as cited in Talbert, 2009, p.17). Part of the nurse’s duty every day is to give medication to their patients, which exposes them to have easy access to drugs. Nurses who take medication from their patients for their own personal use are "always using the maximum PRN dosage when other nurses use less" (DeClerk, 2008, p. 12). The healthcare field accepts the use of medication and so nurses may perceive the wrong idea by making use of patients drugs themselves. "Medications are easily accessible to nurses, who may believe erroneously that they have the ability to control their own medications use because of their experience with administering medication to patients" (Talbert, 2009, p. 17). In the case revealed by Talbert (2009) a nurse was presenting irrational behavior and decrease work ethic when her colleagues realized that many of the nurse's patients had been complaining of pain even though records indicated that medication had been given to them. Nurses consuming patient’s medication at work, places an impact on job performance, and patient safety making nurse unable to care for their patients