Work in it...or is living it enough?

  1. I have always been interested in addictions nursing. Psych and community clinicals were my favorite in nursing school. I even had professors comment and say they could tell this was my "area."
    But that being said, over the past few years I have dealt with a lot of addiction problems first hand in my extended family and with my friends. To the point where it started affected me too (emotionally anyways). So I decided maybe for transference sake that maybe I shouldn't do this for a living!
    When I graduated I took a med-surge job even though I didn't like med-surge in school. Well guess what, I still don't like it. It is just not where I am supposed to be or what I am supposed to do.
    Lately I have been looking for other jobs and I'm still really interested in addictions nursing and we have a lot of places around here that need nurses in that area. I applied for a job but I'm wondering if it was a mistake. Can anyone else relate to this...working in addictions nursing while also dealing with it on a personal level? Is it possible? Is it unhealthy?
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  2. 11 Comments

  3. by   catebsn25
    Your story is very similar to mine. Long story short, yes it is possible. In fact, I believe your background will make you a much more empathetic and understanding nurse in an addictions or psych setting. You need to be sure to take care of yourself, and learn how to categorize your empathy. I work in an acute psych and detox hospital and it is my passion... I feel so lucky everyday to be able to care for these patients, and in my opinion I think my personal experience helps me to be more understanding with my patients.

    The downside to having this understanding is that you will be more prone to burn out. You really need to be aware of yourself and your own feelings, and find ways to separate your work from your personal life. I really need to be conscious of separating the patient's pain from my own, because I absorb it so easily. I can put myself in their shoes and their families shoes so easily, but I need to remind myself to step away often.

    I feel like this response isn't as linear or clear as I would like it to be but I just got off working a double so please forgive me if this is all over the place. I will revisit this post after I've had some rest and see if I can make better sense of what I'm meaning to say. If it is your passion, I say go for it 100%.
  4. by   melme
    Well thank you for your response! Don't worry, I made sense of what you were saying. That because I have been there and done that I do not just look at these people as "addicts," I can see the person they are behind the addiction. I guess the thing I am most worried about, like you said, it keeping a personal life separate.
  5. by   Gooselady
    I can see your concern, and admire your caution. But, go for it! You aren't going into it 'blind' or with a barely concealed desire to cure all the addicts.

    I did psych for 17 years, four of them in chemical dependency. It was by far my favorite job (I know, imagine that) of the psych persuasion. We were a free standing hospital with 16 beds, like a middle class Betty Ford. Watching people come in covered with abscesses and leave with 20 well needed pounds and a light in their eye was worth every heroin addict cursing me and my grandchildren.

    I too had family members with drug and alcohol problems -- my husband at the time. So I'd go to work -- addicts and their shenanigans. Go home -- addict and his shenanigans. I didn't know what end was up. If your addict family are not in your HOME, your experience with them will only enhance your motivation to excel. Addicts are a very draining bunch, but just imagine what THEY are going through. If you are fine with believing none of what you hear and half of what you see WITH objective evidence, you will thrive in addictions nursing. If you don't have a secret narcissistic streak and think YOU will heal them all, and you have good self-management skills, good stress relief and self care (you'll need it), I think you will be glad you took the risk. I prefer nursing with a little bit of a 'kick' myself, and you never knew what was gonna happen in addictions nursing. That made it more fun for me. If you are pretty OCD and don't like surprises or changes in your routine, I'd advise against you going into addictions Flexible and non-judgmental personalities do the best in this field, IMO. And your interpersonal boundaries will be an ever evolving thing.
  6. by   catebsn25
    Not the same for everyone, but getting a therapist and seeing her regularly helped me immensely... Just a thought. Good luck to you!
  7. by   elkpark
    Why be a glutton for punishment? I would think one or the other would be plenty. I've been in psych and substance abuse tx for decades, and, in my experience (only), most of the people who worked in addiction services while having family/loved ones with addiction issues really struggled with countertransference and codependency issues. Why make things harder for yourself then they already are??
  8. by   thekid
    All experience we gather whether it's personal experience or as a nurse will assist us with helping someone somewhere along the way. I agree that it can make you a more empathic healer. Med surg is valuable but why not try out addictions to see how it fits with you.
  9. by   TerpGal02
    I am not going to lie to you and say that it will be easy because it certainly is not easy dealing with addicts when you have been on the receiving end for any length of time. I have worked psych for 3 years and just started on a new unit in November that does psych as well as straight EtOH detox. At the time I had just put the pieces together that my very dysfunctional father is indeed and alcoholic and had a husband less than 2 months out of rehab for EtON.

    In the beginning I had a real hard time feeling any sort of empathy for them. I felt more for their families. As I have gone on, I have been able to detach more I think. I mean, they get SO sick, it's hard not to feel had for them.

    I think it triggers me more in terms of my own recovery and trying to work on my marriage. Seeing multiple patients come in for detox after 20 plus years of sobriety does not exactly build your confidence. I think of you feel like someone's drinking has affected you emotionally, it probably has. I would suggest giving al anon a try (i tried it, did not find it so helpful) or seeing an individual therapist versed in addictions (which has really helped for me)
  10. by   DWillaman72
    I lost my dad to Cirrhosis (died of resp. failure from bleeding esophageal varices), both of my parents were substance abusers. Dad died at age 47 and mother at 58 (complications of depression). With your first hand knowledge of living it you have more to offer your clients than you realize. I currently work with lower SES clients fighting addiction. It is 100 percent where I belong and have been a nurse for less than a year. I, like you, also hated med/surg, dont be stuck because you have to be. I became a nurse because I love to help people, for the selfish reasons I wanted portability, steady pay, and job stability which we all know nursing can offer. Do what is right for you first and then where you can be the most helpful to the most number of people (think of it as triaging your career).
  11. by   kristen312
    I want to do this for the same reason. Had many friends who started using after high school,and had a boyfriend who started using while in the relationship, and ultimate ended it. I excelled in this area in school as well, from living it. I just want to help people get better.
  12. by   NickiLaughs
    I think personal experience can benefit you in that environment but it can also hinder you depending on your personality. You will not be able to save everyone and you have to be able to realize that and not take it as personal failure. When we get people with substance abuse problems in the ER. I'm usually able to talk with them about it more than other nurses who I see avoid the entire conversation.
    I'm also aware that not everyone wants to talk about it. Many unfortunately are still in a manipulative stage attempting to access meds we aren't going to give them. Or once they're stabilized from their Od, the second we release them they're going to get high again. These are probably the most emotionally taxing of all patients for me. I admire anyone who can work with this population in a daily capacity.
  13. by   aflahe00
    I can relate to you with struggling with addiction and have also been thinking about going into the field to work. I can't think of a better candidate for something like this honestly. When I went to treatment, one of the things I reallly loved about it was that almost the entire staff was in recovery ( many years of it of course). When you can relate to what your patients are going through on a personal level it's just different than say someone who can't in that way preaching to them about what and how they should be and so on. People are going to listen to us because we know. We've been where they are. We can really make a difference to them I truly believe it because like I said I felt that way about my counselors and even my dr.

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