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Nurses with Chemical Dependency: Promoting Successful Treatment and Reentry

      Nurses with chemical dependency pose a threat to patient safety, their own health, and the reputation of the nursing profession. To achieve the best possible outcomes for all involved, they must be identified promptly, treated appropriately and, when appropriate, allowed to reenter the workplace with stringent monitoring. Nurses and physicians in chemical dependency treatment programs tend to show similar clinical characteristics, use comparable medical services, and function similarly at follow-up. However, nurses report more frequent and severe work-related sanctions stemming from their chemical dependency (Shaw, McGovern, Angres, & Rawal, 2004). In 1982, the American Nurses Association (ANA) first defined "impaired nursing practice" as the presence of dysfunction related to alcohol and other substance use or psychological problems that interfere with judgment and the delivery of safe care (ANA, 1982).The literature on chemical dependency in nurses lags far behind that for other health-care professionals, especially physicians. However, with nurses on the front lines of patient care, it stands to reason that their risk of chemical dependence is at least as high as that of other health-care professionals. This article draws on our 25 years of experience working with chemically dependent health-care professionals in specialty treatment and aftercare settings tailored to these professionals.
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