What to Do if You Are Working with an Impaired Nurse

Addiction is a very real problem for many nurses. Whether it is due to the stress of the job, pain associated with lifting and carrying, or simply ease of access, over time, too many nurses fall prey to the lures of prescription drugs. Working
Myths About Impaired Nurses with an impaired nurse can be dangerous and will create a great deal of stress and extra work for you and other members of your team. Here is what you need to know about impaired nurses and what to do if you are working with one:

  • An impaired nurse probably has a history of substance abuse. While this may be true in some cases, many nurses develop abuse habits after a stressful event in life that makes it difficult for them to cope.
  • Impaired nurses use street drugs. Again, this may be true in some cases, but in most instances the impaired nurse has a dependency on medications they work with every day. The problem can start with something as simple as taking medication from a patient for minor pain. Sometimes, the nurse will use some of a patient’s liquid medication and replace it with saline.
  • It’s easy to spot an addicted nurse. While there are definitely some warning signs, many impaired nurses will make sure to cover these signs.
  • Drug addiction is a choice. There are many factors that influence the development of an addiction and most times the nurse does not realize she is in danger until it is too late.
  • An addict cannot recover unless he or she wants help. Most addicts will be resistant to treatment programs. However, forced rehabilitation is effective as long as the addict has a strong support network for help and encouragement.

Warning Signs of an Impaired Nurse

If you suspect that you are working with an impaired nurse, watch for the signs and symptoms. These may include strange performance, physical signs, or behavioral changes. Performance indicators to watch for include unexplained absences from the assigned area, medication errors, complaints from patients of lack of pain relief, increased narcotic
There are also a variety of physical signs to watch for including fatigue, tremors, shakiness, slurred speech, glassy or watery eyes, weight gain or loss, unsteady gait, or changes in grooming habits. Finally, look for behavioral changes including defensiveness, moodiness, outbursts, rapid changes in energy levels, insomnia, weight gain or loss, and similar symptoms. sign-outs, and other abnormal behaviors.

What to Do If You Suspect a Coworker Is Impaired

The first step is to be aware of the signs and symptoms of substance abuse in nurses. While it can be difficult to believe that a coworker has a problem or it is scary to think of making a false accusation, it is your duty to report any suspected addiction behavior for the safety of the patients and staff.

Become familiar with your company’s policies for substance abuse and any available assistance programs. Document any changes in the behavior of the suspected nurse as well as questionable incidences. You may choose to confront the nurse privately and encourage him or her to seek help. In addition, you have an obligation to report any illicit activity, and you must do so. Whatever you do, do not ignore the signs, do not cover for the involved nurse, do not allow him or her to make excuses for improper behavior, and never let the impaired nurse manipulate or intimidate you.