Out of the Dark and Into the Light: Exploring the Lived Experience of Nurses who are Addicted, and Applying this Knowledge to Nurse Education

Wednesday, July 13, 2011: 2:25 PM

Karen Lee Burton, MS, RN, CNE
School of Nursing, Weber State University, Ogden, UT

Learning Objective 1: After this presentation participants will understand and empathize with the lived experience of nurses who are addicted to drugs.

Learning Objective 2: Participants will be able to apply research to their own practice as educators, by incorporating realistic nurse addiction content into their curricula.

Purpose: The purpose of this study is to explore the lived experience of nurses who are addicted to drugs, and then take this knowledge and more effectively teach the subject to nursing students. Nurse drug abuse and addiction is a topic of serious concern in nursing.  Some ambivalence related to discussing nurse drug abuse still exists among nurses and nurse educators. Many people choose to ignore the issue, excusing it as somebody else’s problem.  Nursing students may view the problem as something that affects others, but will never affect them. Having a better understanding of the lived experience of nurses that are addicted may help guide these students in understanding the reality of drug addiction in the profession.  Nursing students, nurses, and nurse educators can all benefit from this type of personal information and insight from the view of nurse addicts.

Methods: In this qualitative study, interviews were conducted exploring the lived experiences of nurses who are addicted. Observation techniques were also employed. Data analysis was then completed and themes were identified that were common among the participants in the study.

Results: The study provides insight into the way actual nurse addicts feel about their addictions, and how they experience life as recovering addicts. Five themes have been identified and are as follows:  1) Drug addiction decreases self-esteem; 2) Fear related to drug use; 3) Control issues with excessive working; 4) Belief it would never happen to them; and 5) Hope and desire to have their experience help others

Conclusion:   Nurse addiction is often a dark, secretive subject that is ignored. This study brings the subject to light, and will hopefully change educators’ perceptions of nurse addiction. Then educators can take a more accurate perspective on nurse addiction and incorporate them into their curricula.