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Addiction Nurse – Degree Requirements and Career Information

Higher Education Articles October 19, 2013

An addiction nurse, or a substance abuse nurse, is a nurse who helps people who are addicted to drugs, alcohol, or other substances. With the right education, the salary potential for this job is good, but most nurses who turn to this specialty are not chasing money. Rather, they become an addiction nurse because they want to help people who are mentally and physically suffering from addiction.


Addiction or substance abuse nurses are responsible for helping people who need pain management options, as well as people who are addicted to various substances. These professionals are trained in both medicine and mental health. This allows them to approach both sides of the issue.

Job duties vary, but most addiction nurses are responsible for teaching their patients about the risks of substance abuse and the options for overcoming addiction. These nurses offer support to people who may feel like their addiction is the only valuable thing in their life, in addition to offering support to the family members of the patient.

People who tend to succeed in this field often posses the following characteristics:

•Strong Multitasking Skills

Work Environment and Job Duties

Addiction nurses have a lot of different employment options. Some work in mental health clinics, some work in psychiatric wards, others work in treatment centers or hospitals. Many will work with outpatients, while others will work with patients who have been institutionalized. Their schedules can vary depending upon where the nurse works, and his or her experience. Some can expect to work set schedules with eight-hour shifts, while others may work rotating twelve-hour shifts or even be on-call.

The job of an addiction nurse has variable tasks. They may work directly with a patient who needs help with pain management. They may work with patients who are detoxing. Alternatively, they may spend their time organizing or leading support groups for addicts or their family members. Some addiction nurses even become abuse counselors or advanced psychiatric nurses.

Requirements and Education

If a professional is interested in working in the field of substance abuse, they may be able to do so after earning an ASN (Associate of Science in Nursing) or a BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing). With either of these degrees, they may be able to get a job working with patients who suffer from addictions. However, if they truly want to advance in this field, they should become a CARN (Certified Addictions Registered Nurse), and the path to this position is slightly longer.

The first step is to earn an ASN or BSN. Most ASN programs last two years, while most BSN programs last four. After completing their program, the nurse will need to take his or her NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses). After passing that exam and any other requirements that are necessary for the state in which they live, the nurse can start to look for employment.

After they have logged at least 4,000 hours, or three years worth of work as an RN, they can apply to take the Substance Abuse Certification exam. This test is offered twice a year by the International Nurses Society on Addictions. RNs who are interested in working with substance addicted patients need to work for two years prior to taking the exam. Once they have passed the exam, they earn the designation of CARN (Certified Addiction Registered Nurse).

Salary and Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the outlook for nursing jobs is positive. The average nurse’s salary is just under $67,000 per year, and this number has the potential to be a lot higher with the right training. For instance, if an addiction nurse becomes a Psychiatric or Mental Health nurse, their earning potential increases to $68,000 to $118,000 per year on average.

There is also an incredible amount of growth projected in this industry as well. According to the BLS, there will be an additional 712,000 nursing jobs added to the industry in the next decade. This is a jump of approximately 26% which represents faster growth than most other industries.

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