Hard Love Every Step of the Way: 5 Qualities of a Successful Substance Abuse Nurse

Written by
Rebecca Smith

Apr 11, 2019

Apr 11, 2019 • by Rebecca Smith

Are you thinking about being a substance abuse nurse? The demand for frontline workers helping manage addiction is rising. The opioid crisis is putting significant strain on the healthcare system. Good nurses are needed now more than ever.

It's important to know the unique challenges this type of nursing brings. It's certainly not for everyone.

If you're thinking of getting into addiction nursing, keep reading. Below are five qualities that successful nurses in this field have in common.

1. Patience and Understanding

Patience is one of the most essential traits in any nursing field. The ability to take a step back and properly respond to a situation is needed whether you're with children or the elderly.

What's unique about addiction care is that the people in need can be seen as being more in control of their situation. Though addiction is a complicated disorder, it can seem to lead from poor choices as opposed to random illness, accident, or injury.

A detox nurse needs to understand the underlying conditions that lead to addiction. It's essential that the addict is treated with the same dignity and respect as any other patient.

2. Long-Term Approach

The success rate for addiction varies widely based on the treatment offered. Biochemical treatment offers a stunning 75-80% success rate over five years.

However, counseling-based treatment offers only a 15-25% success rate over the same period.

The problem is that 95% of addiction treatment is counseling-based. That means many addicts who go to rehab relapse at least once.

As an addiction nurse, you may help the same people over the course of many years. The chance of staying clean after treatment isn't guaranteed. You need to accept that you will help the same people through the same struggles.

3. Relationship Building

Abusive and damaging relationships often lead to addiction. Because of this, many addicts struggle to place their trust in others. It also can mean that it's difficult to trust them, too.

The ability to build strong relationships is needed to allow that trust to develop. You need your patients to know that they can rely on you to do what's best for them.

This doesn't mean doing what they want. It means that you do what's best for them, communicating the hows and whys to them so they understand. You need to be incredibly consistent to demonstrate your trustworthiness.

4. Community Awareness

Addiction hits certain communities harder than others. Knowing the struggles the community faces makes it easier to find the correct approach.

It also helps to know what additional services and supports are available. The more resources available to the addict, the likelier they are to succeed.

5. Ability to Forgive

Forgiveness is another trait necessary for all nurses. Being an addiction nurse will especially challenge your ability to forgive. The people you're caring for often have a strong sense of survival. This leads them to act out of self-preservation.

You need to recognize this behavior as part of the disease. It's not personal; they're trying to cope in the only way they know how. 

Being a Substance Abuse Nurse

Being a substance abuse nurse is a challenging yet rewarding career. It puts you in a position to help people recover their health and their lives.

For more information on nursing careers and more, visit our blog.