First, Take Care of Yourself






But How?

When I first ventured into sobriety, I wouldn't have known a healthy coping skill if it smacked me between the eyes. With substances being the only means of stress management that I was familiar with and now being off limits, I was forced to learn and to become more comfortable with new coping strategies. Let me tell you, this was and still is the most difficult part of my sobriety. I've had emotional meltdowns over it. It's almost like learning to walk. You're going to stumble and fall. Sometimes you'll feel like throwing yourself down kicking and screaming. And to be honest, at times you're going to want to run back to the safety and comfort of those old coping skills. This is the part that you'll need to reach out for help. A counselor, a sober friend, church, 12 step meeting...whatever you have to do to not pick up a drink or a drug.

Take your own advice, nurse

 Why is it we nurses have to propensity to never practice what we preach? We spend so much time venting on how much better our patient's outcome would be, if only they would comply with the treatment plan. While completely disregarding our own needs for a balance of mind, body and soul. Develop a treatment plan for a better outcome of your own. We're no help to others if we first, don't care for each of ourselves.  


  • Realize that your mind cannot learn be healthy while you have an active substance abuse disorder. So first things first, put down the substance(s)
  • Therapy and counseling. Speaking from experience, a lot of emotional garbage builds up when we use substances to cope. A professional can assist in sorting through things such as trauma or even potential underlying mental illness


Nurses are notorious for neglecting our own health and the nature of our work is a constant abuse on our bodies

  • Learn and implement safer practices at work to mitigate injury
  • Chronic pain directly related to the nature of the job. My experience with work related back pain and subsequent back surgery was a direct link to my development of substance abuse disorder. Realize the risk and take measures to limit or eliminate the use of narcotic pain medications. There are effective alternatives, we all know it. 
  • Don't roll your eyes at this one but keep a balanced diet. Use dietary supplements if appropriate. As we are aware, deficiencies can wreak havoc on the body and the mind
  • Develop and keep a regular sleep schedule


This is the part of holistic health that is easy to forget about. But the value in health of the spirit is highly important in a career path of healthcare. 

  • Spiritual fitness doesn't necessarily equate to religion or 'God'
  • Some attend church regularly or listen to Christian radio on the way to work
  • Some nurses use metaphysical tools for spiritual means with great success
  • Be openminded

Here's a list of realistic coping strategies aimed at nurses

  • Let go and let the universe sort it out. Realize that you can't control everything. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, we can't control anything outside of ourselves. 
  • Talk about it. It's been said that a problem shared is a problem halved. 
  • Nurses have the tenancy to be perfectionists. Realize that you're not perfect, nobody is. Not the physician, not your coworkers and for sure not you! Healthcare is a difficult profession, it's hard on everyone. So go easier on everyone, including yourself.
  • Cry. Just do it, trust me it helps
  • Support groups. I learned my best and most practical coping strategies in support groups. 
  • Take your breaks at work. I don't know how many times I've worked through breaks just to get my work done. Today I realize I'm useless when I don't take time for myself on or off duty
  • Screw guilt! Does anyone else feel compelled by some unseen force to say yes to any request by your facility scheduler? It's okay to say no to a request to pick up your only day off. Even Superman hangs up his cape once in awhile.
  • Reality based management, including self management. This is a relatively new method of operating and it aligns perfectly with recruiting, developing and retaining healthy minded staff. I've used it to for self application to become a better employee in sobriety. See more about this in my resources section
  • If work stress is at a fever pitch and you're on the verge of an emotional meltdown. Remove yourself from the situation as soon as what's feasible and breathe. Remind yourself that every bad shift comes to an end eventually. 

Other More General Coping Skills

  • Get a hobby, it sounds like a cliche, but everyone should have an activity that's theirs alone. I found out I'm pretty good at up-cycling furniture and making various crafts. I've even made a little money on the side from my hobby.
  • Exercise is a great way to blow off steam. Not my thing, but it works for some
  • Practice mindfulness and meditation. Yoga is a good way to cope with stress
  • Prayer, it goes along with meditation
  • Get out of your own head, volunteer 
  • People with substance abuse disorder tendencies like to isolate ourselves. Stop that. But take alone time if needed as long as it's in healthy doses. If you don't know what that means, ask your treatment counselor or your sponsor
  • Take up reading about substance abuse disorder, knowledge is power.

Here are SOME good reads

12 Step Recovery


Discover Meetings and 12 Step Resources 

and How it Works Addiction Recovery Resources Drug and Alcohol Treatment Resources Abuse and Addiction Treatment 12 Step

SMART Recovery


 See What's in the New Trend of SMART Recovery. Addiction Recovery Resources Drug and Alcohol Treatment Resources Abuse and Addiction Treatment

Christ Centered Recovery


 Christian Oriented Recovery Resources Help for Nurses with Substance Abuse Disorder Addicted Nurse Resources Abuse and Addiction Treatment

Detox/ Rehab and Medication Assisted Treatment



Learn about your options for Detox as well as outpatient options like therapy

Health, Wellness and Ways to Cope in Recovery


  Find Recovery in Mind, Body and Spirit Wellness Addiction Recovery Resources Drug and Alcohol Treatment Resources Abuse and Addiction Treatment Help for Nurses with Substance Abuse Disorder Addicted Nurse Resources

Caduceus Support Groups



12 Step and other Drug and Alcohol Treatment Resources



What it is

12 step recovery entails attending meetings and fellowship with other addicts/alcoholics who have each been sober for varying lengths of time. 

How it works

Using the 12 steps that are laid out in the text book, members work together to achieve a "spiritual experience" which will alleviate the obsession to use drugs. This program helped me take an honest look at myself and my character defects. It taught me that by nature I'm restless, irritable and discontent. I used substances to escape the inability to cope with 'life on life's terms'. The 12 steps taught me how to let go of control and just live! 

The Benefits

  • The meetings and help through the fellowship are completely free of charge.
  • There are daily meetings available virtually everywhere.
  • Online support and meetings are available
  • Sobriety coins are used to celebrate milestones
  • There are counterpart programs available to support the families of addicts (Al-anon, Ala-teen, Narc-anon) also free of charge.

Points to Consider

  • In order for the program to be successful, the suggestions laid out in the text must be followed
  • Generally, 12 step programs are 100% abstinence based. 
  • Addiction is accepted as a disease which the addict must accept powerlessness over
  • Belief that recovery from addiction is a life long process
  • Though secular, generally members must find a "Higher Power" as the source of relief from the obsession to use.


SMART Recovery

SMART Recovery description


What it is

SMART Recovery is described as a science based, secular entity offered as an alternative to 12 step programs.

How it works

Uses Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and non-confrontational motivation to break the "dysfunctional habit" of addiction. 'Change your thinking and change your life' portion of this therapy has helped my day to day attitude and outlook on life. I don't feel like I have to use substances anymore!

The Benefits

  • Daily meetings and friend support are free
  • Online meetings and support are available
  • 100% secular based

Points to Consider

  • It's relatively new, so meetings may be difficult to find
  • Science based but no long term success data available Books for nurses with substance abuse disorder Help for addicted nurses Abuse and Addiction Treatment

Here's the Basics of SMART Recovery Textbook

Christian Oriented Recovery



What it is

This recovery program looks toward Jesus Christ and The Bible with a special emphasis on a personal relationship with God to help addicts recover

How it works

 Similar to 12 step programs, Celebrate recovery uses step-work and sponsorship for 'hurts, habits and hangups'. 

The Benefits

  • Meetings, both online and through local churches
  • Free of charge
  • Addresses a variety of issues including addictions
  • Is generally nondenominational

Points to Consider

  • This program isn't secular in nature
  • Works best for people who are already comfortable with a Christian god

Useful Celebrate Recovery books