Moral distress and alcohol use among nurses during COVID-19

Lauren E. Childers, Erica J. Lewis, Jill M. Delawder, Matthew A. Jones


The COVID-19 pandemic has brought rapid changes, increased stress, and ethical challenges to nurses across the globe. These factors may place nurses at increased risk for developing moral distress and vulnerability to alcohol use. The primary objective of this report was to determine if time with patients diagnosed with COVID-19 increased nurse risk for moral distress and unhealthy alcohol use among nurses in a community hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic. An online survey, consisting of demographic questions, the Measure of Moral Distress in Healthcare Professional tool, the Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Tool, and a single item asking about the amount of time caring for COVID-19 patients was sent to inpatient and emergency department nurses and 57 nurses completed the survey. Nurses were found to be experiencing various levels of moral distress. One-third of the nurses reported an intention to leave their position due to moral distress. One-third of nurses reported risky alcohol use, while 5.3% reported harmful alcohol use. Time spent with COVID patients predicted moral distress and time spent with COVID patients predicted level of alcohol dependence. Moral distress was not a predictor of risky alcohol use. Given the literature on the crescendo effect of moral distress and the nature of alcohol use disorder, the lasting effects on nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic will be important to the profession for years to come. Nursing leadership must commit to implementing resources to help prevent and care for nurses who experience moral distress and alcohol use disorder.

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Journal of Nursing Education and Practice

ISSN 1925-4040 (Print)   ISSN 1925-4059 (Online)

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