Pride in our unique profession can be a hurdle to admitting that we need help for a substance abuse issue. You're not alone. At first I was ashamed of my diagnosis of substance abuse disorder. Then I learned that statistics show that 10% (yes, you read that right!) of nurses succumb to substance abuse behaviors at some point in our lives. There's no shame in being diagnosed with substance abuse disorder, if you seek treatment and recovery.
Help Navigating Professional Monitoring Program
This is all just a big understanding, that's gone too far...
When I got notice that the board of nursing had found out about my DUI, I was certain that all would be well if I could just make them understand that I was out for my birthday, when a series of events which were out of my control lead me to drive after drinking alcohol. This was my first brush with the Board, I thought got away with a smack on the hand. They offered me a program, of which I took to be optional and I turned it down What I didn't know was that the next time I slipped up, there would be huge consequences. So, for those of you who believe this whole thing is just a big misunderstanding, listen up. What I forgot to realize was that I entered into a legal agreement on the day I signed on the dotted line to hold a license to practice nursing in my state. We don't pay any mind to the part of it where we agree not to do things like to drink and then drive. If you've done something to get this kind of attention from your state BON, the chances are good this is not just a big misunderstanding.
It Doesn't Have to Come to License Revocation. But Sometimes it does..My personal story is quite a bit more extreme than the typical 'first DUI' case. Most nurses who have a brush with their BON shape up quickly and don't end up in suspension. But..if you're a true addict/ alcoholic like I am, then you've likely had to hit rock bottom. Ask your employer for help. You don't have to wait until you're in deep trouble to utilize this help and it comes with a certain amount of protection. But as I've said before, if you're really far into a Substance Abuse Disorder, you may ended up a disciplinary case. That happens by making the mistakes that I made. I fought them (my BON), I lied, I denied and I did all of the other things that someone with a substance abuse disorder would do.
Your first helpline is your employer. Most have a help referral program for nurses who think they need help. Ask your facility's HR department for information. Health Monitoring Programs (PHMP) and your state's Nurse Peer Assistance Program. Mine's called PNAP (I'm in Pennsylvania). I'm not ashamed to say that these programs saved my life. They offer treatment recommendations, accountability and they are the gatekeeper to your license getting reinstated if you're referred because of discipline actions. You'll be assigned a case manager, who will grow to become one of your best supports.
When I found out that the BON required me to be 100% abstinent from substances of abuse for the length of the monitoring program, I couldn't imagine how I was going to do it. I didn't recognize at that time, that I have a substance abuse disorder and not drinking alcohol was a big deal for me. Then they told me the random testing requirement. Is it expensive? A little, but compared to what I spent on alcohol before it doesn't even compare. For some of us, you must ask yourself "How much is getting my life back worth?"
There's been argument and debate over this requirement of the monitoring program. It does not have to be AA or NA, smart recovery meetings count too. Caduceus(healthcare professionals) meetings count. AA worked for me, but it's not for everyone. Do what works for you. It might be just the thing to get you through at least the length of your monitoring contract.
You're back to work, and likely back to the same understaffed, high stress environment. Just one other thing..that coping skill you used to rely on is now against the rules and your career is riding on your compliance. Also you'll need to disclose program participation to your employer or potential employers. Check with your specific program but in my state this is not optional. For me it was awkward and embarrassing to discuss something of such a personal nature with a complete stranger and by the way can I work at your facility? I have been pleasantly surprised at how open minded employers can be when you're open and honest about your situation straight out of the gate. And if you meet resistance or overt judgement, then trust me, you don't want to work for that employer anyway. Keep your chin up, you've come a long way.
Please contact me with any questions, comments, or ideas on how to raise awareness