How Do You Become a Substance Abuse Nurse?

Substance abuse nursing is a specialty certification available to practicing nurses with a valid Registered Nurse license. To become a substance abuse nurse, you must first graduate from an accredited nursing program, earn your nursing license, and then pass the certification exam for substance abuse nursing, according to Discover Nursing.

Choosing a Nursing Program

You have several choices when choosing a nursing program, the first of which will to decide between an associate’s level, or bachelor’s level nursing degree. Both levels of degrees can provide you with the ability to earn your Registered Nurse (RN) certification. Choosing an associate level degree may make the most sense for non-traditional students, or students ready to get into the workforce due it their shorter nature. Typically associate programs can be completed in about two years. Pre-nursing students with aspirations of pursuing graduate study in the nursing field, or hoping to advance to a position such as a head nurse or nursing supervisor, may want to consider the longer, but academically stronger bachelor’s degree option. In either case, you can expect to take coursework in biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, math, psychology, and English composition when preparing to apply to a nursing program.

Licensure and Experience

After you complete your nursing program, you will be required to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination – Registered Nurse and register with your state’s board of nursing or medical examiners before being able to be employed as a nurse. Once licensed, you will need to work for a minimum of 4,000 hours, approximately two-years of full-time employment, in a substance abuse setting before being able to sit for the Certified Addictions Nursing Examination and register as a Certified Addictions Nurse.

Reasons to Register

While you may be able to gain employment as a nurse in an addictions area without registering as a Certified Addictions Nurse, the International Nurses Society on Addictions ascertains that certification reinforces the fact that you have additional knowledge and training in the field of addictions, beyond that of a typical Registered Nurse. By becoming certified, you become an active force in promoting quality and proficient care for the addictions patients that you serve. Certification also serves to protect the public and the profession by ensuring that Certified Addictions Nurses are authorities on the diagnosis and treatment of substance abuse disorders and illnesses.

Career Expectations and Considerations

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, as a whole, the nursing field is expected to grow at a rate much faster than the average job growth in the U.S. in upcoming years. A growing understanding of addictions and addiction disorders, in addition to the increasing healthcare needs of an aging population are both factors that will continue to contribute to both career growth and job stability within your field. According to Nurse Journal, the salary for Addictions Nurses is consistent with that of the salary for Registered Nurses.

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The additional training and certification required to become a substance abuse nurse goes above and beyond that of a Registered Nurse. The quality of care, and the expertise that you bring to your patients by taking the time to become certified can be life saving.