I am a nurse. I am also a recovering addict. I have been in recovery for 14 consecutive years now. That seemed an impossible feat 14 years ago, but here I am, safe and clean and sober today. I have also regained my full nursing license and am able to practice safely without any restrictions. Are you a practicing nurse with an active addiction? Are you ready to get help but don’t know how or what to do? Today I will focus on what to do when you are ready to admit defeat and get the help you need. You are not alone, many have gone before you. The question is, do you want to continue what you are doing and end up losing everything (like I did)? Or, do you want to stop this seemingly endless cycle and join a community where life begins anew?
I did not ask for help, I got caught stealing drugs from the hospital I was working for and ended up spending 4 months in jail. That may not seem like a long time, but it was an eternity for me. I lost so much and deserved to. That doesn’t need to happen to you. There is help available, but you have to ask for it. That is the hardest part.
So, you are ready to ask for help. What next? You should align yourself with a 12-step program that matches your addiction. Then, get an alcohol/drug assessment and follow their recommendations as far as what treatment may be best for you. Check your insurance to see what services will be covered (inpatient, intensive outpatient). None of those people will be able to help you with your nursing license or your job, but they can help you get and stay clean and sober. You will have to do the work the programs suggest, but if you do, you will see remarkable changes in your life.
Next, you need to manage your job and your license. In the state of Wisconsin, we have the Professional Assistance Procedure or PAP (see link below). Many states have similar programs, you can look on your Department of Nursing’s website to find out more. The PAP is confidential and allows nurses to report themselves for an addiction, to keep their license and continue to practice, and to guide them through the recovery process. It is not an easy program and requires a 5-year commitment. If you don’t report yourself and your addiction is discovered (by being high at work, diverting drugs, etc), you will lose your license, lose your job, and probably face criminal charges like I did.
Once you report yourself, the nursing board will review your case and decide whether or not to accept you into the confidential program. If you haven’t done anything criminal and complete the requirements they give you, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting accepted. Once accepted, they may suspend your license for a time to make sure you are being compliant with the program. When they reinstate your license, they will impose restrictions to keep you and your patients safe. Some of these restrictions are: no access to narcotics, cannot work unsupervised, cannot do homecare or work for an agency. You will have to attend weekly AA or NA meetings, follow the recommendations of your therapist or counsellor, complete weekly random urine drug screens, and complete quarterly reports. As you progress through the PAP, restrictions and requirements can be loosened, but only if you are compliant with the program. After 5 years you can apply for full reinstatement of your license. If all goes well, there is no record of your participation in the PAP for the public to see and you can go about your merry way.
It sounds like a lot because it is a lot. It is expensive because you are responsible for all of the therapy and drug screens that they require. Being able to keep your license and ability to practice will enable you to pay for it. You may have to move to a different department in your hospital or clinic for a while, but at least you can work as a nurse. It was different for me. My case is public record because of my criminal charges. I joined a similar program as the PAP, but I lost my license for 2 years and struggled to pay for the therapy and drug screens working at a factory (nobody wanted to hire a drug addicted felon). It was so much harder than it needed to be.
If you can, get in touch with a nurse that has gone through it (like me). Some states offer peer support from a nurse who has gone through the program, but Wisconsin does not. It can be invaluable to talk to someone who knows what you will be facing. Recovery is hard but not impossible. I got through it like so many others. You are not alone, I know you feel like you are, but you are NOT alone. Please get help. Now. There will never be a better time. Jail is no fun.