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Substance Abuse Nursing

One in four Americans report that they know someone who actively abuses alcohol or drugs, and some reports claim that as many as one in ten Americans are addicts of some kind. Substance abuse accounts for much of America’s crime, and ruins the lives of ordinary people who find themselves becoming substance abusers. For these reasons, the field of substance abuse nursing (also called addictions nursing) is an emotionally challenging, but very rewarding, nursing specialty.

Where Substance Abuse Nurses Work

Substance abuse nurses work in mental health facilities (where many patients find themselves placed due to a serious addiction), in substance abuse treatment centers, in hospitals, and in hospital psychiatric wards. In fact, there is some crossover between the specialty of substance abuse nursing and psychiatric nursing, as these two fields often overlap and intertwine. Some nurses in this field also work within the prison system, where they treat addicts who have been incarcerated – often times, incarcerated due to actions associated with their alcohol or drug addiction.

A substance abuse nurse’s patients aren’t always adults. Many adolescents also find themselves in mental health or treatment facilities as a result of substance abuse. Some nurses choose to work specifically with these younger substance abuse patients, who often need a different type of care than their adult counterparts.

 

 

What Substance Abuse Nurses Do

Addicts who seek medical help for their substance abuse problems often require close medical supervision, especially at the beginning of their treatment program. When patients first enter a treatment program, it is not unusual for them to be experiencing the D.T.’s, or delirium tremens, during which time patients experience frightening hallucinations and have trouble differentiating between people who are there to help and people who intend harm. The substance abuse nurse is trained to recognize these signs and acts quickly to place the patient in the most appropriate care setting.

During this phase of treatment, they are likely to experience serious withdrawal pains, some of which can be agonizing. As the patient goes through the “detox” phase, the substance abuse nurse helps the patient to manage his or her pain by administering the right dose of medication. Because the patient is a substance abuser, assessing how much pain medication a patient needs versus how much a patient wants can be a tricky business, and requires the substance abuse nurse to use both science skills as well as human skills. This requires substance abuse nurses to be both firm with patients, but also sympathetic to the pains that their disease of addiction causes.

Substance abuse nurses are generally a part of a multidisciplinary team that can include doctors (especially psychiatrists), social workers, psychologists, and other medical professionals who care for patients as they recover from their addictions. Although a nurse’s job is to focus more on the aspect of administering proper medications and overseeing a patient’s physical health, the nurse often becomes part of a patient’s emotional support network as he or she progresses through the stages of recovery.

Furthermore, because not all addicts wind up in recovery programs, but find themselves hospitalized for other health reasons, nurses in the field of substance abuse may find themselves working to educate nurses in, for example, oncology or obstetrics units.

 

Becoming a Substance Abuse Nurse

Substance abuse nurses are registered nurses (RNs) who have a two year (associate’s) or four year (bachelor’s) nursing degree. Like most specialties in nursing, there is no special degree or certification required to begin working in the field of addictions. However, also like many other nursing specialties, certifications are available for those who wish to focus their career on substance abuse nursing and show their commitment to their field.

In addictions nursing, this certification is called the CARN, or certified addiction registered nurse, and is administered by the National Nurses Society on Addictions, one of the two main nurse associations for nurses in this field. The other primary nurse association for substance abuse nurses is called ANSA, or Association of Nurses in Substance Abuse. Both associations offer continuing education opportunities to their members wishing to stay on the cutting edge of the latest research being done within the substance abuse nursing field.

Job Prospects for Substance Abuse Nurses

Unfortunately for Americans, the problem of substance abuse shows no sign of slowing down. But for nurses, this means that job growth in this area of nursing will continue to be strong for the foreseeable future. Like other RNs, nurses in this field earn anywhere from $35,000 to $60,000 per year, depending upon the facility, region of the country, and experience/knowledge level of the individual nurse.

 

 


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