Addiction Among Nurses


Despite the common delusion that addiction to substances is more typical of marginal or minority population groups, drug and alcohol abuse can be encountered across all social strata, generations, ethnicities, and cultures. The nursing profession is not an exception to this rule. Addiction among nurses is a pressing issue, which does not currently receive enough attention in the healthcare community (Rushton, Batcheller, Schroeder, & Donohue, 2015). The gravity of the problem is exacerbated by the fact that affected nurses not only impair their own health but also increase patient risks as they gradually become unable to provide appropriate care.

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Background and Rationale

Addiction continues to be one of most complex, progressive, and (in the majority of cases) fatal disorders. The problem of substance abuse has existed in the nursing profession for more than 150 years. It dates as far back as Florence Nightingale’s practice, when intoxication was a common case with nurses (Burton, 2014). Despite the fact that the occurrence of addictions was generally the same as in any other population, their consequences were much more detrimental as they led to life losses or inflicted an irreparable damage to patients’ health. Nevertheless, the existence of this problem had been ignored until the 1970s when first efforts to address it through increasing awareness of the population were made by the American Nurses Association (Kunyk, 2015).

Nowadays, the exact number of nurses who suffer from various types of addiction is unknown (as many of them remain undisclosed). Yet, according to recent estimations, approximately 10-20% of nursing specialists are addicted to substances to the extent of losing some of their professional skills (up to the total loss of functionality) (Phiri, Draper, Lambert, & Kolbe-Alexander, 2014). This can be partially explained by the fact that nurses have an access to drugs at their workplace (Hensel, Middleton, & Engs, 2014).

Thus, the gravity of the issue is the key rationale necessitating research on the topic. Furthermore, there exists a considerable gap in the literature connected with the experience of those nurses who managed to overcome the addiction. Such studies are crucial for understanding the driving forces of the problem, recognizing its warning signs, and developing effective preventive measures.

Thus, the proposed study is going to investigate a professional and personal experience of nurses who once had an addiction to alcohol or drugs and are now on their way to recovery. These nurses are to be interviewed about their feelings, risk perception, and attempts to cope with their condition. The results of this research may assist nursing students, nurses, nurse educators and other specialists in understating the problem of substance abuse in the profession, which is the first step to an effective solution.

Purpose and Objectives of the Project

The major purpose of the project at hand is to investigate, analyze, and synthesize data on the experience of nurses who used to be addicted to substances in order to provide evidence-based recommendations on management and prevention of the problem. The objectives include but are not limited to:

  • to find out underlying causes of nurses’ addictions;
  • to identify warning signs;
  • to track the progress of the condition;
  • to increase awareness of the problem in the nursing community;
  • to provide recommendations on recognizing and addressing the problem thereby helping those who work with such nurses.


The method of the study is qualitative. 30 nurse addicts will be selected from those who are currently in recovery. They are to be interviewed on their experience. The major topics to be touched upon include 1) nurses’ feelings (fear, guilt, shame, etc.), 2) the ability to perform professional duties; 3) attempts to conceal the problem; 4) coping.

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Capstone Elements

The key capstone project elements of the future study are:

  • investigation of current problem and rationale for change;
  • literature review of the background of the problem and the current state of affairs;
  • intervention;
  • sampling and data collection;
  • analysis and synthesis of the obtained results;
  • conclusion and recommendations.


Burton, K. L. (2014). Emerging from the darkness and stepping into the light: Implementing an understanding of the experience of nurse addiction into nursing education. Journal of Nursing Education and Practice, 4(4), 151-164.

Hensel, D., Middleton, M. J., & Engs, R. C. (2014). A cross-sectional study of drinking patterns, prelicensure nursing education, and professional identity formation. Nurse Education Today, 34(5), 719-723.

Kunyk, D. (2015). Substance use disorders among registered nurses: Prevalence, risks and perceptions in a disciplinary jurisdiction. Journal of Nursing Management, 23(1), 54-64.

Phiri, L. P., Draper, C. E., Lambert, E. V., & Kolbe-Alexander, T. L. (2014). Nurses’ lifestyle behaviours, health priorities and barriers to living a healthy lifestyle: A qualitative descriptive study. BMC Nursing, 13(38), 1-11.

Rushton, C. H., Batcheller, J., Schroeder, K., & Donohue, P. (2015). Burnout and resilience among nurses practicing in high-intensity settings. American Journal of Critical Care, 24(5), 412-420.

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