The latest research on abuse by nurses

A recent study looked at prevalence of use of various substances in a sample of more than 4,000 nurses.1

"Understanding what the statistics mean is key to understanding the problem of substance abuse," says Madeline Naegle, RN, CS, PhD, FAAN, associate professor in the division of nursing at New York University in New York City. Here are several key findings:

Nurses do not misuse alcohol or illicit drugs any more than individuals in other professions. "However, if you consider the fact that 8% to 10% of 2.2 million nurses have a drinking problem, that’s a pretty significant number," she says.

Prescription drug use by nurses, at a prevalence of 7%, is higher than that of the general public.

"There is a higher prevalence of misuse and abuse than the average person for prescription drugs, but not higher than physicians or pharmacists," notes Naegle. "Access seems to be a factor and create problems for people at risk for prescription drug abuse."

Critical care and ED nurses have a higher prevalence of prescription drug abuse than other nursing specialties.

"The strains associated with ED nursing may result in unresolved psychological stress that needs to be relieved through healthier outlets."


1. Trinkoff A, Storr C. Substance use among nurses: Differences between specialties. Am J Pub Health 1998; 88:581-585.