Drug addiction is one of the most significant health problems affecting the United States today. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2020, 21.4% of people 12 and older had used illicit drugs within the past year. When alcohol and tobacco were included, that number jumped to 58% within the past month.1 Although not everyone who uses drugs or alcohol becomes addicted, in the U.S. more than 40 million people have a substance use disorder. Based on these numbers, it’s evident that there’s a growing need for professionals in the addiction treatment field. For those interested in working in nursing and helping people get sober, below is a guide on how to become an addiction nurse.
Otherwise referred to as an addiction medicine nurse practitioner, an addiction nurse applies their knowledge of mental health and medicine to offer care to individuals with drug or alcohol use disorders. Substance abuse nurses work in hospitals, community health centers, and mental health and addiction treatment facilities, where they evaluate and monitor patients, assist with care plans, and offer support.
A certified addictions registered nurse requires experience both in substance use and mental health care. This includes taking electives and completing education in both areas. For nurses wishing to make a difference in the lives of patients battling drug or alcohol abuse, this is an ideal career path. Whether you’re a nurse who wants to change the course of your future or starting your education in nursing, consider being an addiction nurse practitioner if you’re passionate about helping people achieve sobriety.
There are several basic steps you need to complete to get into addiction nursing. Specific requirements for this career path may vary depending on the state and employers, but the general education and work experience needed is the same no matter where you live or wish to work. Below are the steps to getting into substance abuse nursing.
You need a valid registered nurse (RN) license to work as an addiction nurse. The fastest way to earn this education is with an ADN degree, but most employers prefer nurses with bachelor’s degrees.
An ADN degree is the minimum degree requirement for National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), a nationwide examination for the licensing of nurses in the U.S., Canada, and Australia, as well as your RN license eligibility. Although some employers will hire individuals with an ADN degree, most employers prefer applicants with a BSN degree.
To receive your ADN degree, you need:
A BSN is a four-year nursing degree that teaches critical thinking, leadership skills, and the fundamentals of nursing, all of which can prepare nurses for administrative and management positions. For those going into addiction nursing, a BSN is preferred by most employers.
To receive your BSN degree, you need:
In addition to the proper education, an RN license is required to practice as a substance use nurse. Nurses are licensed by their state of residence. An ADN or BSN and a passing score on the NCLEX are required. However, individual states may have other requirements, as well, including background checks.
Nursing licenses must also be renewed according to state requirements and may require continuing education. The Addictions Nursing Certifications Board (ANCB) offers two certifications for addiction nurses: CARN and CARN-AP.
While these aren’t mandatory for becoming a nurse in substance abuse treatment, they can demonstrate competence in the practice and increase your chances of getting hired. Additionally, RNs with an ADN or a BSN, 2,000 hours of experience, and 30 hours of continuing education are eligible for the CARN.
RNs can gain experience in addiction nursing in many different work settings, including hospitals, addiction facilities, mental health centers, and psychiatric hospitals. Although some employers prefer applicants with previous nursing experience, entry-level addiction and substance abuse nurses with a valid license and relevant training or coursework are eligible for hire.
Additionally, RNs can gain work experience through volunteering. Nonprofit organizations often need trained nurses to provide services, education, and other forms of support.
As we previously mentioned, while board certification is optional, many employers prefer – and some require – nurses to have the CARN addiction nursing certification. Issued by the ANCB, nurses must have at least 2,000 hours of experience in addiction nursing and 30 hours of related continuing education to be eligible to take the exam.
The variety of potential employers, ranging from public hospitals to facilities like our Banyan rehab locations, means that addiction and substance abuse nurses typically have a wide array of entry-level positions available to them. If you’re searching for a position as a nurse in the addiction treatment field, consider working for Banyan!
Banyan Treatment Centers offers a wide range of employment opportunities, including substance abuse nurse jobs. While we may not have this position in all of our locations, we encourage you to search through our jobs in substance abuse treatment to see whether you’re interested in any of our available positions.
In addition to employment opportunities, we also offer addiction recovery care in the form of various services, including medical detox, substance-specific treatment, therapy, and more.
If you or someone you care about is battling a substance use disorder, contact Banyan Treatment Centers today.
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