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Nurses must be aware of the signs of addiction

Nurses must be aware of the signs of addiction
Photo: Nurses must be aware of the signs of addiction
The risk of developing an addiction can stem from a number of different causes, from psychological and physical conditions, to relationship or social reasons.

While those who come from a home where drugs or alcohol abuse was present are most at risk of addiction, there are several other groups whose risk is heightened, including those who are frequently stressed or surrounded by addictive drugs, such as nurses and doctors.

“Nurses usually work under extreme and continued pressures,” says psychotherapist Dr Karen Phillip.

“Nurses are usually very caring individuals and place additional pressures on themselves by their need to help and support every patient.

“These internal pressures combined with burnout, anxiety, stress and escalated work expectations can sometimes lead to use of addictive substances to ‘switch off’ their mind and overwhelming emotions, often associated with caring jobs.”
Like anyone, nurses can become addicted to alcohol or illicit drugs, but even legal drugs can become an addiction issue.

“They witness patients being relaxed and aided to sleep with drugs available in each ward, the temptation can be extreme.”

The likelihood of anyone struggling with addition turning to someone for help can be impacted by feelings of shame or guilt – emotions which are often exacerbated  in health workers, due to the nature of their profession.

“The secretive nature of addiction can lead to many negative emotions for nurses due to the guilt they carry.

“Their physical, psychological, mental and ethical health are compromised.

“They become obsessed with the substance, spending time and energy accessing and using.”
 
While any individual can function for a while whist on an addictive substance, eventually their addiction leads to lapse of judgement and focus, and concentration on work is affected. 

“We see changes in demeanour, ability, and the caring emotions normally associated with nurses are often replaced with irritation.”

According to Dr Phillip, addiction often sneaks up on a person. An individual may start drinking alcohol or taking illegal or legal drugs in small doses, then as the definition of addiction goes, ‘you need more of it, more often’.
“Eventually the increased use becomes an issue often spiralling the nurse out of control.

“If a nurse is unable to go for a week, or month, without the substance, it is likely they are developing a dependency.

“Any substance should be able to be stopped, even if we may prefer to continue.

“If their focus shifts to their next hit, if sleep is detrimentally affected if they are unable to competently undertake their job, there is a major issue.”

It’s critical for nurses to be able to identify addiction in themselves and/or their colleagues, as quality of work can be detrimentally affected.

“They often lose concentration as their mind is often focused on when they can get their next hit or fix, they become less engaged with colleagues and patients.

“Rather than caring they can become irritable, short tempered and at times aggressive.

“Their caring demeanour may change to ignoring the need or care of others.”

Dr Phillip says it’s important for nurses to keep an eye out for their colleagues, and take note of changes in behaviour, such as few social interactions, secrecy and increased solitude.

“They may be struggling more financially, display a change in appearance as they look unkept, poor variations in skin clarity and tone, making continued excuses to pop out of work for a short time.

“They may lack concentration, and begin to display detrimental changes to work patterns as they miss more shifts.”

Like many conditions, early identification is crucial for successful treatment. If you suspect you or someone else may be on the cusp of addiction, speak to a counsellor or a drug and alcohol service centre.

“Admitting the problem is the first step to recovery and it is the hardest step to take.”

If you suspect a colleague may be suffering from addiction, consult with the head nurse or Human Resources.

“These people should have training in dealing with people and personal issues.

“Support, not criticism, is needed while ensuring the patients remain safe if the addicted nurses work practices are concerning.

“Discussion with the nurse may result in denial so close attention to behaviour is needed.
“Addiction is the result of a challenging issue; it is a symptom of something happening in the life of the addict they do not know how to manage.

“Support and counselling are essential to ensure the nurse learns new strategies and techniques to manage or heal their issue without the need for continues drug use.”

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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications (www.stellacomms.com) and a children's author.