As you consider what specialty of nursing you want to go into, it may help to consider what an addiction nurse does. Addiction or substance abuse nurses are registered nurses (R.N.s) that help patients overcome substance abuse problems.

The Work of an Addiction Nurse

What an addiction nurse does is work directly with patients who are in rehabilitation for drug or alcohol problems. Addiction nurses work in a variety of settings, including primary care physicians’ offices, hospitals, psychiatric facilities, methadone clinics and inpatient and outpatient drug treatment centers, the Houston Chronicle reported.

In the course of their work with recovery addicts, an addiction nurse does a number of different tasks. When patients suffer withdrawal symptoms that are uncomfortable or even painful enough to tempt them to return to using drugs, a substance abuse nurse may administer medications and other treatments to help relieve those symptoms. Addiction nurses also educate the patient on living a clean, sober, healthy lifestyle as well as helping patients cope with the psychological and emotional issues associated with drug abuse. 

Becoming an Addiction Nurse

If you want to become a substance abuse nurse, you need a college degree and a nursing license. Either an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree can prepare you for a career as a registered nurse, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. However, earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree is often the best educational path, since employers are increasingly looking for candidates with an undergraduate degree. If you have already earned an associate’s degree and begun working as a registered nurse, you may want to expand your education through an R.N. to B.S.N. degree program.

As you study to become an R.N., you will take classes such as biology, chemistry, microbiology, psychology, nutrition, anatomy and physiology as well as supervised fieldwork experiences in clinical settings. You may be able to finish an associate’s degree program in nursing in two to three years or a bachelor’s degree program in four years. All states in the U.S. require graduates from a nursing degree program to take the National Council Licensure Examination and attain a nursing license, according to the BLS.

If you aspire to a role as a substance abuse nurse, a degree and license might not be enough to help you achieve your goals. Nurses who choose to specialize in an area such as addiction often earn special certification to demonstrate their qualifications, the BLS reported. For example, you might choose to seek the Certified Addictions Registered Nurse (CARN) credential from the Addictions Nursing Certification Board. To attain this certification, you need at least one year of experience working as an R.N. in a role related to addiction rehabilitation nursing, and you must earn a passing score on a professional exam.

If you want to make a difference – particularly, in the addiction crisis – then becoming a substance abuse nurse can help. The work that an addiction nurse does plays a crucial role in recovering from substance abuse problems.

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