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Drug abuse can be devastating for not only the individual person addicted to drugs but also for their family and friends. However, the effects of drug abuse among nurses can reach further. A nurse guilty of patient harm as a direct result of substance abuse will of course still be affected, as will the nurse's family and friends. Though in this situation, the drug abuse will also affect a patient, the patient's family, and the patient's friends. Drug abuse among nurses is a dangerous and harmful situation.
Many nurses choose to remain silent about a colleague who may have a substance abuse problem because of loyalty, fear of being a hypocrite, guilt, or fear of jeopardizing a colleague's license to practice. It is suspected that 10% of the nursing population has alcohol and/or drug abuse problems. It has also been estimated that 6% of nurses have problems that are serious enough to interfere with their ability to practice.?
The American Nurses Association (ANA) has estimated that 6% to 8% of nurses use either alcohol or drugs to an extent sufficient to impair their professional judgment.? Among nurses, prescription-type medication use has been noted to be higher and while marijuana and cocaine use has been noted to be lower than in the general population. Statistics show that nurses are more likely to practice sobriety compared to people in other occupations.
Stress in the workplace provides another explanation for why some nurses abuse substances. Increased workloads, decreased staffing, double shifts, mandatory overtime, rotating shifts, and floating to unfamiliar units all contribute to feelings of alienation, fatigue, and ultimately stress. Drug abuse may be a way of coping in jobs perceived as alienating. Nurses may deal with these issues because they have no choice or because they are workaholics and are addicted to their careers. In other words they live, breathe, and sleep work.
Nurses may also have difficulty admitting their own problems. In general, drug abuse among nurses is experienced by those who are well-liked and respected, bright and highly skilled, and ambitious and achievement-oriented. These nurses are in demanding jobs that involve responsibility and require commitment. Evidence demonstrates that nurses who abuse alcohol tend to be achievement oriented people who strive to be 'super nurses' at work and 'superwomen' elsewhere. Although nurses who abuse substances may seem to have everything under control, they often have a history of:
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