A Nurses Role in Treating Substance Use Disorders

April 10, 2019

Being available to meet and treat a patient’s needs is not simply a 9-to-5 job. This is why the best substance use treatment facilities have nursing teams that are available for their patients 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Working with patients with substance use disorders can lead to any number of expectations for a nurse in any given day. A typical day for a nurse who works with patients suffering from substance use disorders might include:


❖ Providing patient education

❖ Assessing patient conditions

  • During withdrawal
  • Throughout the inpatient process

❖ Participating in multidisciplinary treatment planning meetings

❖ Administering medications

❖ Providing general physical and emotional support for patients


In addition to their daily responsibilities, a nurse can make important contributions to the substance use disorder field that extend beyond the walls of treatment facilities. What might these exterior opportunities for nurses to get involved with be? Let’s take a look at some of the ways nurses better themselves – and those in need around them – through community and action and activities:

Partnering with Statewide Peer Assistance for Nurses (SPAN)

An advantageous resource available to all New York State licensed nurses, who may be coping with alcoholism and/or drug addiction, is the Statewide Peer Assistance for Nurses(SPAN). SPAN’s program focuses on the identification, education, and prevention of alcoholism and drug addiction. They also work with volunteer nurse advocates around New York State. Nurses throughout the community, as well as those still in nursing school, can greatly benefit from hearing their peers speak about their own personal recovery journeys.


Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI)

With approximately 135,000 active members, the International Honor Society of Nursing is the second-largest nursing organization in the world. Their motto is ‘Improving world health through knowledge.’ and their mission is advancing world health and celebrating nursing excellence in scholarship, leadership, and service. Registered nurses who are members are able to contribute to the nursing profession and enjoy the benefits of prestige, belongingness, and support research.


CARN: Certified Addictions Registered Nurse

The CARN exam is offered by the Addictions Nursing Certification Board (ANCB) to any registered nurses. According to the ANCB, certification “documents that special knowledge has been achieved, elevates the standards of addictions nursing practice, and provides for expanded career opportunities and advancement within the specialty of addictions nursing.” From their education and experience, a certified nurse has a great deal to offer patients, the professions of nursing, and the public.


Influencing Policy

Within the NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS), there is a Nursing Advisory Panel. This panel “is comprised of a group of addictions nursing content experts, experienced clinicians, researchers and managers” who “advise the Commissioner on OASAS initiatives in New York State.” Their efforts allow nurses to impact policy on a state level and has significant benefits for the field and for improving patient outcomes.

It is important for substance use treatment facilities to have a team of nurses who have these certifications and participate in these organizations. That is exactly what you will find at Tully Hill, where the level of passion among our nurses for treating patients with substance use disorders is unparalleled. It takes a special and dedicated nurse to work with patients that face the stigma of addiction on a daily basis. Substance use disorders have both physical and mental components, which makes it vitally important for the nurses at Tully Hill to have a foundation in medical/surgical nursing in addition to the expertise they have in behavioral health.


Along with all the items mentioned above, the single most meaningful thing a Tully Hill nurse does on a daily basis is also the most important: They care.

Please note that, whereas most if not all of our older blog posts do not have appropriate, non-stigmatizing language – i.e., substance use disorder in place of addiction and/or chemical dependency –  all subsequent posts do and will retain language that avoids propagating negative stereotypes and biases through the use of slang and idioms.

Likewise, we have pledged to follow the guidelines set forth by the Office of National Drug Control Policy and that are conceptually and in general endorsed by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASA), the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and other federal and state entities governing and regulating substance use disorder. We will therefore now use person-first language that respects the worth and dignity of all people; that focuses on the medical as well as clinical nature of substance use disorders and treatment; and that promotes the recovery process.


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