Everything You Need To Know About Addictions Nursing

What Is Addictions Nursing?

Addictions nursing is a type of nursing where you will work with people suffering from an addiction of some kind, usually an addiction to a substance, such as drugs or alcohol. In addition you may work with the patient’s family as well as with anyone else who feels that they have been negatively affected by the addiction that your client has. Sometimes the patients will see you on a voluntary basis, while other times it will be against their will.

Nature Of The Work/Duties

The main duties that you will perform as an addictions nurse are as follows:

  • You will work with your patients to promote their recovery from their addiction
  • You will also provide addictions therapy to your patients
  • You will provide addictions counseling to your patients
  • You will educate patients and their families about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse
  • You may need to run group therapy sessions for groups of addicts and sometimes their families as well
  • You will work closely with other members of the health care industry and public to promote general addiction awareness as well as the individual well being of your patients
  • You will spend long periods of time with individual patients, as opposed to brief care in many hospital settings


Addictions NursingThis is not a particularly popular area of nursing to be employed in. for one thing it can be dangerous. You may, for example, be employed in a correctional facility, such as a prison, where you will be faced with treating hardened criminals. Usually you will deal with the fresh inmates who need to be detoxified and helped through the cleansing and rehabilitation process. Even in other employment settings, such as hospitals and rehabilitation centers, you may be in danger. However, although addicts have a reputation for being dangerous and willing to do anything to get what they want, this is usually not the case and in many situations they are willing to cooperate in order to overcome their addiction and move forward with their lives in a proactive way.

Addictions Nursing Requirements

There are three main requirements that you will have to meet in order to become involved in the domain of addictions nursing:

  • You must hold an RN license: This means that the first step on your journey involves entering an RN training program and completing a nursing degree which will prepare you to write the NCLEX-RN examination.
  • You need to have experience in addictions: Once you have received your RN license you will need to find employment in an addiction setting in order to get the necessary experience for certification.
  • You must have a Certified Addiction Registered Nurses (CARN) qualification, which is approved by The National Nurses Society on Addictions (NNSA): Experience, as well as theory training, needs to be completed before you can write the exam to receive your certification as an addictions nurse.

Personality Traits

Different areas of nursing require subtly different personality traits in order to make a successful career out of that specialty. When it comes to addictions nursing the real challenge lies in balancing your sympathy for your patients with the fact that you need to be objective and not give in to any manipulative strategies that your patients may employ. In addition to this you should also be hard working, non-judgmental and sympathetic. If you feel that you either lack these skills or that you will be unable to develop these skills, this may not be the ideal area of nursing for you to specialize in. Fortunately, there are many different nursing specialties that you can become a practitioner in that will suit the personality that you have. Not all nurses are suited for all areas of nursing.

Educational Requirements

The educational requirements for being an addictions nurse are as follows:

  • You need to have a high school diploma or a GED equivalent thereof.
  • You need to have completed an RN degree qualification. You can earn a diploma, an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, or a master’s degree in nursing and the more advanced your educational qualification is the better your employment outlook will be. The program must be offered by a school or college that is appropriately accredited in your state.
  • You need to complete the CARN certification. This will include, among other things, theory questions based on the following topics: Addiction Therapies, Biochemical Basis of Addiction, Care of Patients with Addictions, Drug Abuse‚ Withdrawal and Pain Management, Eating Disorders and Addiction, Elderly and Incarcerated with Addictions.


The only license you need, technically speaking, to be an addictions nurse is your registered nursing or RN license. This is earned by firstly completing one of the RN degree programs mentioned above. It will help if you focus on addictions nursing as far as possible when doing this training. Then you will have to apply for licensure with your state board of nursing. There are different licensing requirements in different states, so you need to know ahead of time what your particular state requires of you when you make this application. Once your application has been confirmed you can set an exam date for writing the NCLEX-RN exam. Passing this exam will earn you your license which you will have to renew every few years while providing proof that you have done continuing education.

How To Become An Addictions Nurse

Training, Advancement And Other Qualifications

Training for addictions nursing, as in all other aspects of nursing, consists of two main sections:

  • Theory, and
  • Clinical

The theory training will be covered in your nursing degree. During your degree you may have the option of selecting courses and electives that focus on addictions nursing. There will also be additional theory training provided for taking the CARN certification exam.

Clinical experience, on the other hand, will require you to be active in an addictions treatment setting. The most common way for nurses to receive the relevant amount of experience in this regard is by engaging in an internship that their school or training program approves of for a set period of time. You may not get paid during internships, but the experience that you will gain will be invaluable for your exam as well as in your career.

Source An Accredited Education Program

The program that you attend to earn your RN degree must be accredited. If it is not accredited the degree that you earn will count for nothing. There are two main ways in which you can determine whether or not the program you are interested in is accredited:

  • You can enquire about the accreditation status of the program with your state board of nursing.
  • You can do some of your own research on the school and check its website for this accreditation information.

The first method is far more reliable because there are, unfortunately, a number of schools out there that are not genuine and that may even go as far t mislead the general public about their accreditation. Online schools are especially important to watch out for.

Earn Your Associate’s Degree

In order to enter the field of addictions nursing you need to have an associate’s degree. Although many other nursing specialties require you to have a bachelor’s degree, and associate’s degree is what you will need in order to become an addictions nurse. However remember that the more advanced your degree is the better your resume will look and the more job opportunities you will have. An associate’s degree can be earned at any school or college that offers training in how to become a nurse. It will consist of theoretical and clinical training and you are required to complete both aspects of the degree course before your associate’s degree will be awarded. An associate’s degree is often seen as a stepping stone to greater things in the field of nursing and there is room for advancement.

Obtain Your Licensure

These are the requirements for becoming a Certified Addictions Registered Nurse (CARN):

  • You must be a certified RN who graduated from an accredited program with a current RN license that has no limitations on it.
  • You must be able to show proof of 1 year or 2000 hours of experience in an addictions nursing setting within the 3 years preceding your application for addictions nursing certification.

If you can show that you meet the above mentioned requirements, you will be then be allowed to sit the necessary certification exam for becoming a nurse with a specialty in addictions nursing. Certification will mean that you will be a sought after asset in the addictions nursing setting and you will always be sure of finding a job in your chosen area of nursing specialization.

Online/Distance Education Programs

For nurses who are concerned that they will not have the time required to study for the Certified Addiction Registered Nurses (CARN) exam, it is important to note that there are a number of online study options and resources available for nurses in this position. These resources will allow you to study for the exam in your own time and at your own pace without having to worry about compromising your career while you learn. However you must remember that the clinical experience needed in addictions nursing in order to be certified cannot be completed in an online setting and it will be your responsibility to ensure that you find the appropriate balance between online theory study and hands-on clinical experience. It is extremely important that both aspects of the program are attended to.

Job Outlook

All areas of the nursing profession are experiencing growth in terms of the number of jobs that are available. Across the board we are in the process of experiencing a 22% increase in the nursing sector. Addictions nursing certification will ensure that you have a very strong job outlook because:

  • There are many people who need help with their addictions form a professional with the relevant qualifications – this number also seems to be growing all the time.
  • With a qualification in addictions nursing you will be one of the first candidates considered for any position in an addictions nursing facility.

In addition, because you will also have basic nursing training, you will also be able to work in any regular hospital setting where specializations in nursing are not a requirement.


As an addictions nurse you can earn about $30,000 a year more than what an average RN can earn. The average salary for an addictions nurse is something in the region of $45,000 per year but can be as much as $70,000. This is not a bad salary at all, and it must be noted that not many areas of nursing will pay as well as this. According to simplyhired.com this salary can vary based on a number of factors such as “company, location, industry, experience and benefits”. The biggest factor is the state in which you work. By this stage you have probably realized that different states offer different salaries to their nurses, and that some simply pay substantially more than others. To find out more about salaries for addictions nurses in your particular state you will need to engage in some research of your own.

Addictions nursing is one of the tougher areas of nursing, and it will take a very special personality to be able to cope in this area. However it can be very rewarding, in the same way that traditional hospital nursing can be rewarding, in that you too will be able to see improvements and changes in your patients for the better. However, just like with patients that suffer from physical illnesses and injuries, there will also be times when your patients do not recover at all, and you will need to have the frame of mind that can deal with that, accept that, and not let it prevent you from doing your job well.

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