Substance Abuse Nurse


Substance Abuse Nurse Job Description & Scope of Practice
A substance abuse nurse specializes in providing care for patients who are addicted to drugs, alcohol, prescription medications, or other substances.  This specialty nursing position works closely with doctors to provide patients special care.  The nurse is often responsible for assisting with exams, educating patients and their families, and administering and monitoring medications.  Nurses must be specially trained in pharmacology and also must be particularly supportive and caring when working with difficult patients.

Patients with substance abuse are often dealing with other problems in their lives.  Nurses must be able to have compassion yet be able to distance themselves from patients when necessary.

These specialty nurses work with patients in both in-patient and out-patient settings.  Some of the most common places where these nurses work include hospitals, private clinics, mental health facilities, psychiatric wards, and treatment centers.  Nurses specializing in substance abuse must be trained in both the physical and mental aspects of addiction and work with doctors to provide customized treatment plans for their patients.

How to Become a Substance Abuse Nurse

The first step towards becoming a nurse specializing in substance abuse or addiction is to first become a registered nurse (RN).  There are two main ways to become an RN including either a two-year or four-year program.  A two-year program will provide you with an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) while a four-year program results in a Bachelor of Science in nursing degree (BSN).  Most nurses prefer to attain the BSN degree because you will have better career choices and salary options.  After completing a nursing program, you will need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam to become licensed.

Substance Abuse Nurse Education Requirements, Certification, and Schooling Programs

The nurse treating patients with substance abuse problems is a specialized nurse position that requires training and experience.  The path towards becoming this type of nurse begins by getting a two or four year degree.  Choose the BSN degree with a specialization in pharmacology or substance abuse.  Be sure to focus your undergraduate studies in anatomy, chemistry, and physiology.  Once you have graduated and have successfully passed the licensing exam you should begin your work experience.

Substance abuse nurses are not currently certified through any certification agency. However, nurses in this field may wish to obtain certifications in relevant fields such as psychiatry or mental health offered through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Nurses in this field are mentored through the Association of Nurses in Substance Abuse (ANSA).

Also, nurses with a degree, a nursing license, and several years of work experience may choose to take a Addictions Nurse certification exam.  The exam is designed specifically for nurses who work with patients with addictions like those with substance abuse problems. Those who pass the exam are called Certified Addictions Registered Nurses (CARN).  This allows nurses better career and salary opportunities now and throughout the career.

Substance Abuse Nurse Salary and Career Outlook

Nurses who specialize in substance abuse will be in high demand in the coming years.  As with many nursing positions, the need for all types of nurses is expected to rise considerably.  The need for nurses with specific training in substance abuse will rise at an even higher level.  Substance abuse care is becoming more mainstream and with it the need for high quality nurses also increases.  The salary for this type of nurse depends greatly on the location and setting where the nurse works.  The average yearly salary may range between $45,000 and $65,000.  Those nurses working in private practices or facilities will reach the upper end of the range. 

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