What Is a Substance Abuse Nurse?

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Male substance abuse nurse counsels patients suffering with drug addiction.

Coping with addiction isn’t easy. For patients overcoming alcohol or drug addiction, care built around the concept of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can be an effective treatment strategy. However, it’s a treatment that requires a skilled, empathetic individual to guide individuals in need of help. A substance abuse nurse can be this guide, helping patients navigate the mental and physical aspects that come with the recovery process. For those who complete an advanced degree program, such as an online MSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice from Regis College, pursuing a career as a substance abuse nurse could lead to one of the most satisfying roles in the health care industry.

How to Become a Substance Abuse Nurse

Becoming a substance abuse nurse requires the completion of a degree such as an ADN or BSN. Pursuing an advanced degree, such as Regis College’s online MSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice program can allow students to further develop and refine essential skills like communication and critical thinking and advanced skills such as leadership. An advanced program can also enable students to choose a specialization like mental health to treat conditions such as depression and dementia. It can also provide the skills necessary to apply care strategies like medication-assisted treatment (MAT) that combines behavioral therapy and medications to treat substance use disorders. These programs also prepare students to apply for certification from a credentialing institution, such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

The Role of the Substance Abuse Nurse

Nurses monitor and assess a patient’s treatment strategy and recovery process, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses. They’re also responsible for administering patient medications, and in the case of MAT can deploy behavioral therapy techniques. They also educate patients about recovery programs and show great empathy.

Substance abuse nurses must have several well-developed skills to be successful. Because substance abuse treatment is a collaborative effort, it’s important for nurses to work effectively with physicians, therapists, and other professionals who play a role in the treatment process. Nurses must have excellent interpersonal skills and strong communication competency to discuss sensitive material clearly and concisely. They must have solid critical thinking and decision-making skills, as they may have to make quick judgment calls to handle sudden treatment issues.

The Substance Abuse Nurse as Community Advocate

A substance abuse nurse’s duties aren’t necessarily limited to the clinic. Experienced, well-educated nurses can become trusted leaders in their local communities by being advocates for substance abuse prevention. They can apply their knowledge of addiction and addictive behaviors to develop community programs designed to minimize or thwart abuse. They can develop these programs by applying nursing theory and interpersonal processes.

Salary and Job Growth

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) includes this profession in the category of substance abuse, behavioral disorders, and mental health counselors and projects 23% job growth for the category between 2016 and 2026. This is much higher than the 7% the BLS projects for all professions.

An Important, Satisfying Career

As with other nurses, substance abuse nurses are ultimately charged with helping improve patient outcomes. Reaching this goal can help a patient regain control of their lives and become clean. This act of aid and guidance makes being a substance abuse nurse one of the most important and satisfying positions in health care. Learn how Regis College’s online MSN to DNP program can help you work toward this rewarding career.

Recommended Readings
The Importance of Standardized Nursing Terminology and Classification Systems
The Pivotal Role of Orem’s Self-Care Deficit Theory
The Primary Care Provider Shortage: 2019 Update

American Nurses Credentialing Center, Our Certifications
Regis College, Online MSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice (Nurse Education)
The Houston Chronicle, “The Role of a Nurse in a Drug Rehabilitation”
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors
U.S. National Library of Medicine, “The Employment of Nurses in Publicly Funded Substance Abuse Treatment Programs”
U.S. National Library of Medicine, “The Role of the Psychiatric Nurse in a Community Substance Abuse Prevention Program”