Send to:

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
Subst Abus. 2015;36(1):59-66. doi: 10.1080/08897077.2014.933725. Epub 2014 Jul 10.

Substance use and mental illness among nurses: workplace warning signs and barriers to seeking assistance.

Author information

  • 1a OMNI Institute , Denver , Colorado , USA.



Although some studies have examined the prevalence of substance use among nurses, few have assessed substance use in the workplace or early cues for identifying these health conditions. Primary data collected as part of a larger program evaluation were examined with the purpose of better understanding (a) the context and perceived consequences of substance use and mental illness among nurses and (b) barriers and opportunities for earlier identification and treatment of these issues among nurses, their colleagues, and employers.


Anonymous surveys were mailed to 441 active and recent participants of a peer health assistance program in the summer of 2010. The survey examined drug-related behaviors in the workplace; behavioral cues that may permit earlier identification of substance use and mental illness; perceptions of barriers to seeking assistance; and strategies for preventing problems and overcoming barriers to seeking assistance.


Responses were received from 302 nurses (69%). Nearly half (48%) reported drug or alcohol use at work, and two fifths (40%) felt that their competency level was affected by their use. More than two thirds of respondents thought their problem could have been recognized earlier. The most highly rated barriers to seeking assistance for substance use and mental illness included fear and embarrassment and concerns about losing one's nursing license. Respondents recommended greater attention be paid to early identification of risk factors during nurses' professional training as a prevention strategy.


Findings from this study provide preliminary data that can be used by schools of nursing and health care employers to improve early identification of nurses' substance use and mental illness treatment needs. These data also suggest a need for more research to explore the prevention and early identification of co-occurring disorders in health care settings where nurses practice.


Alcohol; barriers to seeking assistance; drugs; mental illness; nurses; peer health assistance program; substance use; worksite warning signs

[PubMed - in process]
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Loading ...
    Write to the Help Desk