A Career In Addictions Nursing

Addictions Nursing

There are a number of areas in nursing that you as an LPN could choose to specialize in. One of these areas is addictions nursing, which essentially means working with people who have an addiction to a substance, counseling them, and dealing with the related health issues.

What Is An Addictions Nurse?

An addictions nurse is a nurse that works with patients that have an addiction of some kind. The most common addictions are:

  • Alcohol
  • Narcotics

However there are also other forms of addiction to consider, such as, for example, sex addiction. Your job will be to work with these people and help them overcome their addiction. Sometimes you will work with people who are voluntary attending a program, but often the patients that you will deal with will be in your care against their will. It is therefore quite a tough job to do and you will require a thick skin to get through his career successfully. In addition to working with the patient you may work with their family members as well and provide counseling to all affected by the addiction.

Nature Of The Work/Duties

There are a number of things that you will do as an addictions nurse. For one thing you will be responsible for promoting the recovery of your patients from their addiction. You will also provide therapy and counseling to your patients and educate patients and their families about the dangers of substance abuse. In addictions nursing you may occasionally be placed in charge of facilitating group therapy sessions. You will be required to work closely with social workers, doctors and community groups and spend long periods of time with individual patients. Overall your role can be described as follows: you provide help and support to patients who seek assistance in recovering from some kind of substance abuse problem from which they are currently suffering.


Addictions Nurse
Addictions nurses tend to be employed in very fast paced environments such as hospitals or rehabilitations centers. Employment in this sector will be both physically as well as emotionally challenging and tiring, so ensure that you have the right personality for this line of work before you take up specialization training in this arena. There are many nurses employed in this sector. Correctional facilities sometimes also require addictions nurses for new prisoners as addictions nurses tend to be heavily involved in the detoxification process. As compared to other nursing specialties, this one places you in more dangerous positions more often. It is not a popular employment option, but that means that you will have little competition when looking for a job in this particular corner of the nursing industry.

Requirements For Addictions Nursing

To be an addictions nurse you have to be a qualified and registered RN. This means that the first step in your journey to entering the addictions nursing field is to do an LPN to RN bridge program. This will culminate in you writing the RN examination, known as the NCLEX-RN. You will not have to do any additional training in order to become an addictions nurse, but if you want to specialize in this area specifically you should get the necessary certification. This can be done through writing the following examination to show that you are an expert in the area:

  • Certified Addiction Registered Nurses (CARN), which is approved by The National Nurses Society on Addictions (NNSA)

Most nursing programs cover this. You can choose to work in an addiction setting in order to gain the necessary experience.

Personality Traits

As an addictions nurse the following personality traits will stand you in good stead:

  • Hard working
  • Sympathetic
  • Non-judgmental
  • Patient
  • Thick skinned

All nurses are required to be hard working due the large amount of work that they have to deal with on a daily basis, so the same applies for a nurse with a specialization in addiction nursing. You also need to balance sympathy with objectivity. You will be dealing with people who really need help and who want help, so you should show the correct level of sympathy to show that you understand their position. However you also need to remember that being thick skinned is an important trait when dealing with addicts. At all times you must maintain an attitude that does not judge.

Educational Requirements

To become an addictions nurse you will first need to have passed the required nursing courses. Then you will need to pass the CARN certification test. The topics that will be covered in this test include the following (and there are a number of online resources and practice tests to help you prepare):

  • Addiction in Children‚ the Workplace and Cultures
  • Addiction in Women and Homosexuals
  • Addiction Therapies
  • Biochemical Basis of Addiction
  • Care of Patients with Addictions
  • Diagnosis and Treatment of Patients with Substance Related Disorders
  • Drug Abuse‚ Withdrawal and Pain Management
  • Eating Disorders and Addiction
  • Elderly and Incarcerated with Addictions
  • Impulse Control Addictions
  • Overview of Addiction
  • Pathophysiology of Pain


Technically speaking you only need to be a licensed registered nurse if you want to work as an addictions nurse. However there are further licensing and certification options for you to consider which will improve your chances of employment in the field substantially. You could become a Certified Addictions Registered Nurse (CARN).  In order to qualify for this qualification you need to be a certified RN with a current license that has absolutely no limitations on it at all. To become licensed you will need 1 year or 2000 hours of experience in a field that deals with addiction within the 3 years preceding your application for licensure. If you meet these requirements you can take a CARN exam which will then allow you to be licensed as an addictions nurse.

How To Become An Addictions Nurse

Training, Advancement And Other Qualifications

The basic qualification that you will need before you can train to be an addictions nurse is a nursing degree of some kind. This is essential. There are also a number of other training stipulations that you must not forget about when considering this specialization:

  • You will need to engage in an internship at a facility that your school or college approves of before you can become a licensed addictions nurse.
  • The places where you may have the option to work could include a treatment center, psychiatric unit, or hospital detoxification center.

This is an essential aspect of the training procedure as it will give you the practical hands-on experience that you will need going forward into your career as a nurse with a specialization in addictions nursing.

Source An Accredited Education Program

To be an addictions nurse you have t have a bachelor’s degree in nursing. This will make you an RN. It is very important that, when you are looking for a school or college to attend, that you ensure that that school or college is in fact accredited. If it is not you will be wasting your time and money. Your state board of nursing can inform you whether or not the school you would like to attend is accredited. If the school is not accredited you will be unable to write the RN examination. Once you have done that you will need to engage in the training mentioned in the previous section. The internship you do must be approved by your accredited school in order for the work you do there to be taken into consideration.

Earn Your Associate’s Degree

To be an addictions nurse you absolutely have to get an associate’s degree. This is the bare minimum nursing education requirement to specialize in any area of nursing. There are also other degrees that you could work towards including:

  • A bachelor’s degree
  • A master’s degree

There will be more opportunities available to you if you choose to earn a higher degree. However in the meantime you can enter an RN course that will result in an associate’s degree and the chance to write the NCLEX-RN examination. Once you have done that you will be able to work in an addictions clinic or other setting in order to get the required experience, following which you will be able to write the specialization examination and move forward with your career as an addictions nurse.

 Obtain Your Licensure

Once you have completed the necessary training to become an addiction nurse you will need to write the CARN exam. Once you have written the exam you will need to maintain your licensure by attending lectures and IntNSA-sanctioned conferences. These are the best ways to get the continuing education credits that you need to maintain your nursing license. You will have to pay for the conferences, but they will keep you up to date on everything you need to know in order to be the best addictions nurse possible. Continuing education credits are a requirement for you to maintain your RN license in any case so you may as well add to your knowledge as an addiction nurse in the process.

Online/Distance Education Programs

Because you do not need a great deal of additional education in order to become an addictions nurse you can study online for the Certified Addiction Registered Nurses (CARN) exam. There are plenty of online resources to help you prepare. Remember though that you cannot become a CARN if you have not completed the necessary amount of time of actual work in an addictions setting before applying for the qualification. So although the theory for the exam can be studied online you cannot escape the fact that you will need actual hands-on experience for this particular nursing specialization. The exam itself will also have to be written offline.

Job Outlook

The job outlook for nursing in general is very good. With growing substance abuse problems across the country there is also an increase in the need for professional addiction licensed practical nurses and registered nurses. In fact the nursing industry is expected to grow by no less than 22% over this decade. That is quite an impressive increase and addiction nurses will have a great many jobs to take advantage of. You will be in high demand as:

  • There are many people who need help in this regard.
  • You have advanced training and experience that will make you a better candidate for an addictions position than an average nurse.
  • You will be eligible to earn more because of your advanced position and skills.


As earnings go an addictions nurse tends to earn at the higher end of the pay scale. Consider the overall average for RNs in general. RNs will earn (on average) around $45,000 a year. This is not a bad salary at all. However it is notable that, on average, an RN with a specialization in addictions nursing can earn $30,000 more than this, around $75,000 a year. This is substantially higher. Not all specializations will earn higher than the average for all RNs. If you are a nurse with a specialization in mental health nursing, for example, you will only earn around $38,000 a year. This makes addiction nursing one of the top earning positions in the field of nursing and one well worth your consideration if you are looking to specialize.

Addictions nursing is one of the more difficult areas of nursing to get involved in, and it also as the potential of being dangerous at times, especially as the patients you will be dealing with may display violent tendencies as a result of the substances that they are on. Sometimes nurses report feelings of frustration in this line of work. However it is also seen by many as a very rewarding nursing specialty to become involved in. If you have the right personality for it you can create a very fulfilling career for yourself in this line of work.