Substance abuse has been rated as one of this country’s top medical issues for over two decades. Nurses who can provide medications and care to those who suffer from addictions to drugs and alcohol continue to be in demand. These men and women are pain management nurses who help regulate medications and provide care for those addicted to drugs or alcohol, or who are suffering from other types of substance abuse. Statistics show that one in every 10 Americans actively abuses a substance and that one in every four people knows someone close to them who is experiencing problems with substance abuse. Therefore, many substance abuse nurses often deal with both patient and family members during the treatment and recovery process.

Duties of a Substance Abuse Nurse

Substance abuse nurses may work in clinical or hospital situations and with a wide variety of patients and age groups. They often greet patients who enter treatment to assess symptoms and to determine a treatment plan. While many patients can walk through the door unaided, some patients may enter treatment in delirium tremens, or DTs. In these situations, the substance abuse nurse must act quickly to place the patient in an intensive care unit where acute care management is available.

One major problem that the substance abuse nurse faces is the constant inquiry by patients for drugs. While some patients require drugs during the initial phase of treatment, others merely are looking for substitutes to help handle the emotional and physical pains of withdrawal. Therefore, the substance abuse nurse must be empathic but firm during treatment, a skill that often is learned only in dealing with substance abuse patients.

The substance abuse nurse faces a rewarding career, as many patients do recover from their addictions. However, many patients often return to treatment after a period of time, so the substance abuse nurse may face some disappointments. The understanding that drug and alcohol addition is a disease — like cancer or diabetes — will go a long way to help nurses in this field to understand why addicts sometimes “backslide.”

Related Types of Nurses

Substance abuse nursing is similar to any nursing field that deals with chronic and/or terminal illnesses such as cancer. While many people may not believe that alcoholism or drug abuse is a disease, this perspective has helped many a family member and nursing professional cope with the heartache of watching a loved one succumb to substance abuse. Therefore, skills in grief management and education in recent discoveries on alcohol and drug abuse are imperative to understand the fallout from this disease. Closely related fields include mental health, social work, hospice work, HIV or AIDS nursing and IV therapy nursing.

Substance Abuse Nursing Degrees

Training for substance abuse nurse comes as part of the process with nursing and or clinical/medical technician degrees. Most substance abuse nurses must be capable of handling prescription drugs and — in some cases — intravenous injections. Additionally, certification programs and experience in the field as a volunteer will help you to begin your career as an substance abuse nurse.