Emerging from the darkness and stepping into the light: Implementing an understanding of the experience of nurse addiction into nursing education

Karen Lee Burton


Abuse of drugs and alcohol occurs across all cultures, generations, and occupations, including nursing. Nurse addiction is a topic of serious concern that is often dismissed or ignored in the profession. Impaired nurses can become dysfunctional in their ability to provide safe, appropriate patient care. This qualitative study explored the lived experience of nurses who have been addicted to substances. Knowledge of this phenomenon may help guide nurses, nurse educators, and nursing students more accurately understand the reality of substance use disorder in the profession. In this qualitative study, 14 nurse addicts in recovery were interviewed about their experiences and risk perceptions. Analysis was conducted through coding, the identification of meanings and themes, and the use of qualitative research software. Five themes were identified from the study: (a) Fear was a significant part of the experience of being a nurse who was addicted; (b) Shame and guilt were felt by nurses who were addicted; (c) Poor coping: Addicted nurses reported having underdeveloped coping skills; (d) Control: Addicted nurses felt an increased need to control their environments; and (e) A core problem inherent in nurses who were addicted was a belief that addiction would never happen to them. Discussion of the five identified themes was followed by a discussion about addiction risk, prevention, and suggestions for application in nursing education. Participants discussed their experience with nurse addiction in their nursing education experiences and offered suggestions for more effective ways to teach the subject in nursing school. Implications for nursing education were then discussed, including using peer educators, namely, recovering nurse addicts, as teachers of this subject. Implications for nurses globally are presented. Finally, the overall theme identified was that addicted nurses often felt misunderstood and judged, and they desired to be accepted among others in the profession.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5430/jnep.v4n4p151

Journal of Nursing Education and Practice

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

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