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How nurses support patients in overcoming substance abuse

Nurses are the first line of defense in providing medical care and patient guidance. These professionals ensure patients’ well-being through every phase of their health recovery, and their role becomes even more pronounced in substance abuse and drug rehabilitation.

Those looking to make a difference in people’s lives by moving into the world of nursing can study at a reputable institution such as Carson-Newman University. When asked to explain “why I love being a nurse practitioner,” one nurse cited several benefits in an article for the university’s website, including greater pay and autonomy. Comprehensive nursing coursework like the Carson-Newman program can prepare nurses to help patients through their substance abuse recovery journey, reducing their healthcare challenges and aiding in their rehabilitation.

Patient assessment 

A nurse typically conducts an initial assessment when a patient enters a rehabilitation facility. This involves a detailed interview about their substance use history, including the type of substances used and the duration, frequency and quantity used. This enables the nurse to learn more about the extent of the patient’s addiction.

The nurse will also assess the patient’s physical health. They might conduct a physical examination, order laboratory tests, and measure blood pressure, heart rate and temperature so they can identify and monitor any distress or complications. Nurses also analyze the patient’s mental health to determine whether they are suffering from depression, anxiety and other forms of mental distress.

The mental health analysis also evaluates the patient’s motivation to change, their readiness for treatment, and any potential barriers to recovery. After this, nurses collaborate with other medical professionals to identify the most appropriate treatment approach. This might include medical detoxification, inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation exercises, individual or group therapy, or medication-assisted treatment.

Administering medication 

Patients in rehabilitation experience withdrawal symptoms as their body starts adjusting to the absence of addictive substances. These symptoms can range from mild discomforts such as headaches and nausea to severe symptoms such as seizures and hallucinations.

Nurses are trained to administer medications that can manage these withdrawal symptoms. For example, they might administer methadone or buprenorphine to a patient recovering from opioid addiction to help reduce their cravings. For patients addicted to alcohol, they might administer medications like benzodiazepines, which can alleviate symptoms of alcohol withdrawal such as anxiety, restlessness and delirium tremens.

However, medication administration isn’t just about managing withdrawal symptoms. It also facilitates the detoxification process. Throughout this process, nurses monitor the patient’s response to medications and adjust dosages as necessary. They also educate patients about the importance of the medications they are taking and their side effects and ensure they are actively invested in their recovery process.

Patient education 

Any form of substance abuse comes with significant health risks, such as respiratory disease, mental health disorders and potential overdoses. Nurses educate patients about these dangers to keep them informed of the consequences of abuse and addiction. For example, they might explain how prolonged alcohol abuse can lead to liver disease, cardiovascular problems and even neurological damage.

However, patient education isn’t just about highlighting the dangers of substance abuse. It also entails emphasizing the benefits of rehabilitation. Nurses provide patients with the tools and support needed to overcome their addiction. They explain the various aspects of a rehabilitation program, such as detoxification, therapy sessions, support groups and aftercare plans, so every patient understands how each component contributes to the recovery process.

Nurses also educate patients about the importance of maintaining sobriety after a rehabilitation program. They emphasize the fact that recovery is a lifelong journey, and they explain how strategies for avoiding triggers, managing stress and dealing with cravings empower patients to stay away from their addiction.

Emotional support 

Substance abuse and addiction often come with a heavy emotional toll. Patients may feel guilty, shameful or depressed after abusing drugs. They know it’s not healthy for them, but many struggle to control their addiction. They may also be unable to imagine a life without the substance they depend on. Some also struggle with the stigma that comes with drug abuse.

Nurses provide a safe space for these patients to express their feelings without worrying about being judged. They listen empathetically, validate the patient’s emotions, and offer reassurance. They remind patients that feeling scared or overwhelmed is okay and that these feelings are a normal part of the recovery process.

In addition to providing a listening ear, nurses offer practical strategies to help patients cope with their emotions. They teach relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation to help manage anxiety. These techniques help patients cope with the recovery process and reduce their chances of relapsing.

Monitoring progress 

When a patient enters a rehabilitation facility, nurses begin tracking their progress. This starts with the detoxification phase, monitoring vital signs such as heart rate, blood pressure, temperature and withdrawal symptoms. They watch for signs of distress or complications that may require medical intervention.

As the patient moves into the therapy and counseling phase, nurses continue to monitor their progress. They observe the patient’s engagement in therapy sessions, emotional well-being and attitude toward recovery. They also track changes in their behavior that indicate potential relapse; this could be increased agitation, changes in sleep or appetite, or cravings for the substance.

Nurses also monitor the patient’s coping strategies and skills for maintaining sobriety. They assess the patient’s ability to avoid triggers, manage stress and handle cravings. They also evaluate the patient’s progress in rebuilding their life outside the rehabilitation facility. This may involve re-establishing relationships, finding employment or engaging in healthy hobbies. This can help nurses determine if a patient is recovering well and whether they will need additional therapy sessions.


Patient assessment, medication administration, education and emotional support from nurses are essential components of the recovery journey that address the complex nature of addiction. By offering these valuable services, nurses can help patients overcome their addictions and rebuild their lives after rehabilitation.

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