I once worked with a nurse who nobody would have guessed suffered from substance abuse.
He was the most pleasant and kindest nurse on the unit.
Being an operating-room nurse, his role was to give the patients premedication prior to surgery.
The main premedication that was given was Pethidine.
Pethidine is a strong analgesic and narcotic, and even though it is primarily a pain reliever, it has the side effects and addictive nature of narcotics.
His addiction started when one day, he decided to give himself an IV dose of Pethidine when he was in severe pain.
Nobody noticed that there was a missing vial; slowly he started injecting himself more and more.
It came to a point where he was so addicted and had lost all integrity -that instead of giving a female patient her pain medication while she waited to go into the operating room for her fractured femur surgery, he injected himself as the patient watched.
Even though the patient was in so much pain and realized the nurse was taking her medication, she gently said, “Why are you destroying your life!”
That was when he realized he had gone too far.
It was sad to watch him get fired and lose his license, but we knew he could get help and recover.
The common reasons why nurses start abusing substances include the following:
It’s easy to self medicate when one is in pain.
Even though your doctor may give you a prescription, you decide that you need more than you got -and slowly start treating yourself from the medication cart.
Nurses tend to get addicted to prescription medication because it is easily accessible to them.
Stress and Depression
Never learning to cope with challenging and stressful situations can lead you to self medicate.
Challenges are part of life, and feeling depressed happens to most people.
It is better to seek professional help if you are depressed.
Avoid going down the slippery slope of self -medicating.
When your coworker is suffering from substance abuse, you will notice a change in their behavior.
They take on a personality that is unfamiliar to you.
One minute they are as sweet as pie, next minute they have outbursts for no reason.
They start to miss work, become sloppy and their work quality declines.
They take several breaks and go to hidden or out-of-site areas for their break.
Another telling sign is they are always medicating patients with narcotic pain medication -even those patients who never complain of pain.
The patients also complain that when a particular nurse gives them IV pain medication, it has no effect.
What you can do
If you realize that one of your colleagues is addicted, be sympathetic and supportive to them and offer a helping hand.
This is not a time to say stuff like, “Busted!”
If you are close to them offer your assistance otherwise, inform your manager so they can handle the situation.
There are several organizations willing to help addicts.
Many recovery groups use the 12 Step approach and the Serenity prayer.
Refer them to the local hospital for information on drug addiction centers or help them look up addiction centers on-line.
To overcome addiction, one needs to use a multidisciplinary approach which includes doctors, psychologists and counselors.
The spiritual approach must never be left out when treating substance abuse because addiction is a spiritual problem.
What are some of your experiences?
If you want more spiritual support, I talk about overcoming addiction in my book; Reflections and Prayers for Nurses. It is a great resource to have.
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