A Nursing Career in Addiction

Champion Center Director of Nursing Tracy Miller, RN, BSN, CARN

Addiction nursing is unlike traditional nursing in the sense that chemical dependent patients do not show outward signs of being ill. These patients are suffering internally and because they are so good at functioning in the midst of their disease, they tend to fool the people around them into believing everything is fine with them.

Even the best of nurses can miss subtle signs and symptoms of addiction.

A story I would like to share as an example is from when I used to work on a cardiac floor some years ago. I remember that I had just come on shift and in the daily report I was told that one of my patients was agitated, confused and combative. This patient was so bad that the night shift nurse had even called the doctor for an order to put wrist restraints on them. After the nursing report was given, I went into the room to assess the patient. I observed the patient sweating, and shaking.

I leaned over the patient and asked, “When was your last drink?” The patient’s eyes grew wide and in a soft voice they replied, “How did you know?” The connection that was made with this patient was important because it allowed me, as the nurse, to facilitate getting orders for proper medication to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms. It also allowed a trusting nurse/patient relationship to develop.

My experience and expertise in chemical dependency has broadened my practice and enabled my ability to help countless people who struggle with this disease.

I facilitate a bi-weekly health lecture for our patients. I also volunteer in the local school district by visiting different campuses and educating students on chemical dependency nursing. I have been able to market to various facilities and educate about chemical dependency, and how the Champion Center can help those in need with a safe, successful detox. At the Champion Center, being a Certified Addictions Nurse has many meanings. First, it means there is a deeper level of understanding for patients and their families who face addiction and the reasons that led them into their disease.

I have yet to meet a patient who comes through our doors without any underlying issues. There is always something deeper that the patient is experiencing beyond the substance use. These issues can be related to trauma, grief, identity, or shame, just to name a few. Having an advanced knowledge in this field offers these patients a nurse who better understands the whole picture. Also, it means that the nurse has ability to combine Western medicine with Eastern medicine.

Addiction treatment requires a holistic approach in the sense that we need to heal the “whole” person. It also means that the nurse has the education to know that this specialty is practiced with other modalities outside of medication -- that includes motivational interviewing, and stages of change.

One of the most important meanings to me is that it conveys the expertise that enhances my competency of my practice in this field. Patients are scared when they come into treatment. Having a well-educated, knowledgeable and confident nurse will help to alleviate their anxiety and build trust.

According to the International Nurses Association on Addictions, certification shows commitment to the prevention, intervention, treatment, and management of addiction disorders. Becoming certified requires education, a certain amount of experience in the field, and passing a lengthy state exam. Certification is used to promote evidence-based nursing and elevates nursing practice to higher standards. These higher standards are more specific in the nursing assessment, diagnosis, outcomes, and planning for chemically dependent patients.

My goal for the Champion Center is to provide our patients with a certified, expert nursing team so that each person is provided the highest level of care. 

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