First Step…Awareness

If we don’t acknowledge there is a problem, how can we develop a solution? If you reviewed last week’s articles you know there is a problem. If you didn’t read them, do that now, we need to understand the scope of this problem. What is the problem exactly? Is the problem just that nurses can’t keep their hands off the drugs they work with? I suppose that’s part of it, but there is more to it.

Let’s start with how to recognize when a friend or coworker may be abusing substances (this includes alcohol and drugs)…

Below is a list of some of the things you may see:

  • Slurring words, uncoordinated movements
  • Increasing work absences
  • Shakiness, tremors of hands, agitation
  • Work performance with periods of high and low productivity
  • Prolonged breaks from work
  • Suspicious drug log entries and drug shortages
  • Wearing long sleeves when inappropriate
  • Personality change
  • Falls asleep during meetings or has trouble focusing
  • Often volunteers to administer narcotics to patients
  • Showing up at work when not scheduled
  • Heavy “wastage” of drugs
  • Incomplete charting and practice errors

I want to talk about the things people may have seen in me when I was working and using. In no way am I saying my coworkers should have noticed things, that it was in any way their fault, what I want is for people to become aware of the symptoms so if they do witness them, they have the tools they need to intervene when necessary.

I never missed a day of work. Work was where I got my drugs, if I missed work, I missed the drugs. I did not go to work when I wasn’t scheduled, that actually never occurred to me, if it had, I may have tried it. I always wore long sleeves or a jacket of some sort to hide the needle marks. I worked hard, especially when I had drugs in my system. They made me feel better, at least for a while. As they wore off I was jittery and irritable. I would shake terribly when trying to draw up medications to give my patients. I think people noticed, maybe they didn’t, nobody ever said anything. I altered drug records so I could steal the drugs. Later on I just took them hoping nobody would notice…they did eventually. This was 10 years ago, we did not have an automated medication dispenser, it was easier to do. I looked forward to trauma patients and volunteered to care for them knowing they would get narcotics. “Wasting” drugs was never observed, we signed for each other without a thought. I took frequent breaks to take the drugs, I told my coworkers I was going out to smoke. All of these things intensified as my using did. If you want to read more of my story, check out my book…

If you notice some of these things in someone you work with what would you do? Nobody said anything to me, I’m not sure they noticed, maybe they didn’t. If they did notice, did they recognize it as drug use? Probably not. My hope is that knowing what to look for will help people recognize it early and intervene.

Next week we will talk about what to do next. What do you do when you suspect someone you work with is abusing substances?

Have a great week!

About the Author

Kristin Waite-Labott is a registered nurse and recovering addict who has firsthand experience with the challenges of addiction. She now works as the Head Nurse Coach at Veritus, a virtual treatment program for nurses with substance use and mental health disorders, and is dedicated to helping nurses overcome addiction and making a difference in the lives of others. Kristin is passionate about addressing the growing problem of addiction among healthcare professionals and encourages open discussions and action to prevent it from spreading further.

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