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Why many nurses struggle with drug or alcohol issues

Look at any list of stressful jobs, and chances are that nursing is right up there. For one thing, nurses must wear many hats: medical professional, caregiver, confidant and gofer, to name some. Quite a few work long, soul-draining shifts where they deal with problems that not many other people see.

Moreover, when they go off work, do they have time to decompress and to rest before starting the next shift? In many cases, no. They go home, take care of their families and settle in for just a few hours' worth of sleep. So, it is no wonder that some may turn to drugs and/or alcohol to help with exhaustion, headaches, insomnia and other issues. However, is the blame entirely at the nurses' feet? As with many things, the picture is a lot more nuanced than it might seem at first glance.

Employers can do more to help

Hospitals, medical facilities, doctors' offices, home health agencies and other employers of nurses can be doing more things to help with their nurses' well-being. At a basic level, they could get more staffing, minimizing the odds that nurses will have to stay past already long shifts because shift staffing numbers simply are not there. At the other end of the spectrum, they should recognize that addiction among nurses is a real problem and take steps to erase the "atmosphere of silence."

Overall, employers should provide more training and resources to help nurses better deal with the emotions they experience at work. For example, counseling could be more accessible and shifts spaced apart better.

The fact is that there can be mitigating circumstances when a nurse turns to drugs or alcohol, and often, these are things the employer could have prevented. Nurses suspected of having an addiction issue could be at risk of losing their licenses, and that can be unfortunate because quite often, all it takes is a comprehensive rehabilitation plan to address the nurse's (and workplace's) underlying issues.

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