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The impaired nurse: Would you know what to do if you suspected substance abuse?


Specializes in Vents, Telemetry, Home Care, Home infusion. Has 44 years experience.

Whether using legal or illegal substances, coming to work impaired is grounds for immediate termination in most workplaces due to impact on patient care activities. First few times I was involved with colleague repeatedly not acting in usual pattern, unsure how to handle situation. This article offers advice to help our colleagues identify patterns that may suggest substance abuse and protect patients from harm. Karen

American Nurse Today

Issue Date: August 2011 Vol. 6 No. 8

Author: Cynthia M. Thomas, EdD, RNC, CDONA, and Debra Siela, PhD, CCNS, ACNS-BC, CCRN, CNE, RRT

The impaired nurse: Would you know what to do if you suspected substance abuse?

Substance abuse occurs across all generations, cultures, and occupations, including nursing. About 1 in 10, or 10-15% of all nurses, may be impaired or in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction. Although nurses aren't at a higher increase risk than the public sector, their overall pattern of dependency is unique because they have greater access to drugs in the work environment.

Impaired nurses can become dysfunctional in their ability to provide safe, appropriate patient care. Addiction is considered a disease, but the addicted nurse remains responsible for actions when working. Nurses should be aware of the signs and symptoms of substance abuse and know when to report a coworker suspected of substance abuse to management.


Edited by NRSKarenRN