Substance abuse nurses work with patients who struggle with drug, alcohol, or other addictions. Not only do they develop treatment plans that address the physical recovery of addiction, but they must also address the mental health and psychosocial aspects of recovery.

One challenge substance abuse nurses face is relapse. When developing a relationship with patients and families and observing the recovery process, it's difficult when relapse occurs. Many nurses feel they have "failed" their patients in some way. It's important for nurses to remain grounded and recognize that addiction is like any disease - sometimes treatment must be altered to reach the desired outcome.

Another challenge is dealing with the family and friends of the patient. Nurses must be able to recognize enabling behavior and abuse which hinders recovery. Engaging family and friends in the treatment process is sometimes necessary, but it is difficult when they are not willing to change their behavior to help the patient recover. Using a multi-disciplinary approach, enlisting the help of mental health professionals such as psychiatrists, social workers, and counselors can help bring a patient closer to recovery.

Perhaps one of the most significant challenges is losing a patient to addiction. After developing a relationship with a patient and trying various medical and behavioral treatments, sometimes it isn't enough for the patient to beat addiction. Reminding oneself that addiction is like any disease and sometimes treatment fails despite the most valiant effort can help ease the pain of losing a patient. Also, allowing time to grieve the loss and recruiting support from friends and family can help the grieving process.

While there are challenges in any field of nursing, there are also moments of success as well. Observing a patient beat addiction and live a healthy, productive lifestyle is the best reward for substance abuse nurses.