When deciding to enter the stressful and demanding field of nursing, I asked myself how will I physically, mentally, and emotionally deal with the demands of the profession? It takes a lot of long hours, knowledge of procedures and practices, and devotion to patients and their families. So how do nurses deal with the demands of their job? It has surprised me that in researching the profession that ten to twenty percent of practicing nurses have substance abuse problems.
Substance abuse is defined as using excessive amounts of drugs or alcohol beyond their specified purpose.
I chose to research this particular social problem because it concerns me that so many individuals are choosing to enter the nursing field to specifically help or care for the well-being of others, but are putting lives in danger by working under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Nurses handle, measure, and administer most of the medication given to hospitalized patients, giving them the most access to controlled substances.
The reasons given for most of the drug abuse among nurses is psychological distress, physical exhaustion, and job dissatisfaction. It was interesting to learn that 10 percent of drug abuse begins while attending nursing school. At Salem Community College, drug testing is administered during the nursing program to prohibit the use of drugs and anyone with a previous drug charge may not apply to the program. I believe schools are trying to limit the amount of potential drug users from entering the profession. When trying to propose solutions on how to combat this issue, one must use the three main sociological perspectives.
First, the symbolic interactionist perspective uses symbols to consider details of everyday life and how people interact with each other. A symbolic interactionist may believe that drug use is a learned experience. Without someone showing you how to use the drug or describing the effects or feeling of the drug, you may never consider trying it in the first place. If the initial drug use is defined as pleasurable, it is likely to reoccur, and over time the individual will earn the label of “drug user. ” If this definition is internalized so that the individual assumes the identity as a drug user, the behavior will continue.
A symbolic interactionist’s solution to this problem may be early education about drugs and alcohol to children to deter the behavior before it begins. Second, a functionalist perspective uses scientific approaches to deal with social issues. A functionalist would look for data in drug use among nurses such as deaths, arrests, loss of medical licenses, etc. Functionalists argue that society provides us with norms and guidelines on alcohol and drug use. Drugs are seen as very functional. They alleviate pain, reduce fevers, and curb infections.
A functionalist’s solution to drug abuse is to provide guidelines for behavior. People who lack control are more likely to pursue destructive behaviors. A solution could possibly be early intervention. Provide nurses with an outlet to discuss their feelings or work concerns. Shorter shifts and less patients to care for would also alleviate stress. The final perspective would be the conflict perspective. The conflict perspective would suggest that the abuse of drugs and alcohol plaguing the nursing profession would be directly attributed to social class, income, and power.
If the nurse was given more power in the workplace and was not overworked and stressed, there would be no reason to abuse drugs. A solution to this issue in the conflict perspective would be for nurses to have a higher income and more control over their schedules and responsibilities in the workplace. In comparing the different sociological perspectives, I believe it is important to use both micro and macro analysis to investigate this social problem. Micro analysis can be used to analyze individual problems in the nursing profession that cause many nurses to turn to drugs and alcohol.
Macro analysis will look at the profession as a whole to see what can be done to improve conditions for nurses and to rehabilitate nurses who are in recovery. I personally would choose both methods because it is important to use different points of views to solve problems in our communities. When looking back 50 years, I believe that chemically impaired nursing was as much a problem then as it is today. There was less documentation back then to account for lost medication. I believe there was an assumption that nurses are respected, trusted, and would never put the patients life in danger.
With all of the technology today, I believe it is a lot harder to get away with stealing medication. When administering drugs, there is a lot more documentation and security in the hospitals. Medications are secured in lock boxes which must be accessed by more than one nurse. If I were a sociologist given a grant to investigate chemically impaired nurses, I would go around to hospitals and have a group discussion. I would ask the nurses to voice their concerns about their work environment and try to solve the underlying issues.
I trust the functionalist view in trying to provide an outlet for nurses to get out their pain and stress. Maybe personal therapy sessions would be a helpful service to provide. When caring for others all the time, sometimes you need someone to hear your thoughts and feelings. There needs to be more sympathy for nurses in America. Instead of stripping a nurse of their license, we need to rehabilitate our nurses and treat them with the same respect as they do their patients. In the end. we are all humans and should be allotted the same opportunities.
The government needs to put more money in educating future nurses, so that less nurses will be spread so thin between so many patients. Nurses who see unusual behavior such as mood swings, lateness, absences, and unfinished assignments must speak up and notify a supervisor. The addiction cannot be confronted if it is never detected. By treating the nurses with respect, the same treatment will be given to the patients.
Works Cited Botterweck, Michael J. “Everyday Sociology. ” Starpoint Press. 2009. Dolan, Josephine. “History of Nursing. ” W. B. Saunders Co. , 1968. Rafferty, Anne Marie. “The Politics of Nursing Knowledge. ” London. 1998.