Don't ask don't tell: substance abuse and addiction among nurses


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Abstract

Aim.The purpose of this manuscript is to illustrate the challenges faced by nurses who abuse substances and to promote international dialogue about what practitioners, administrators, health care providers and students can do when they suspect someone in the profession is abusing substances, or they may themselves be suffering from addiction.Background.Addiction among nurses has been recognised by professionals in the field for over 100 years, and current estimates place rates of substance misuse, abuse and addiction rates as high as 20% among practicing nurses. Unfortunately, fear of punishment and discipline may keep nurses or students from asking for help for themselves or from reporting a colleague or friend who is in need of help.Design.Discursive paper.Method.This paper synthesises the results of three previous papers conducted on substance abuse policies in the nursing profession. In the first paper, the authors reviewed the history of addiction in nursing and compared disciplinary and alternative-to-discipline policies. The second focused on the development of an alternative-to-dismissal policy for substance abuse in a school of nursing and using telephone and email interviews, and the final paper reported findings of what types of polices seem to be working to retain and rehabilitate nurses who suffer from addiction in the USA. Lastly, this paper introduces international policy for nurses with addictions.Conclusions.Poor or ineffective policies that mandate punitive action endanger the public by making it difficult for impaired students or professionals to ask for help. Providing early intervention and assistance is essential in helping colleagues and students recover from an addictive disorder and providing a non-punitive atmosphere of support may well be a life-saving first step for nurses and those in their care. Many territories and countries throughout the world now offer confidential, non-punitive, assistance for nurses suffering from addictions.Relevance to clinical practice.Recognition of a colleague's need of treatment is the important first step in the rehabilitation process. Early intervention and assistance are essential for helping colleagues and students to recover from an addictive disorder and providing a confidential, non-punitive atmosphere of support may well be a life-saving first step for nurses and those in their care.

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