Addiction Nursing

What is Addiction Specialist Nursing?

Addiction is a disease with which many individuals struggle. Addiction takes a variety of forms and the severity of the condition differs from person to person. When addiction is mentioned, what most often comes to mind is dependence on alcohol and other controlled substances. Some addictions are difficult to detect.

Examples of this include the food-addicted person hiding his or her binging and purging or other unhealthy eating habits; the gambler borrowing funds to pay bills; the smoker who ‘isn’™t hurting anybody’; and those who hide their addictions to sex, the Internet, and shopping. Many addicted people exhibit behavior for so many years that it seems normal to family and friends, while others are unable to function even in daily life. In many instances, addiction is mental as well as physical. Nurses specializing in addiction gain the trust of patients, treating the whole person, not just the addiction. These nurses help those who are struggling with addiction to regain control over their lives.

Addiction Nursing Profile

Addiction Nurses are also referred to as Substance Abuse Nurses. A similar specialization is psychiatric nursing, which also focuses on the mental health of patients.


In order to qualify for certification, one must have completed an RN or BSN program. If an individual wishes to become an advanced practice addiction nurse, he or she must have at least a master’s degree in nursing.

Which Certifications are Necessary?

According to International Nurses Society on Addictions (INTNSA), there are two different certifications for addiction or substance abuse nursing. One is required for RNs, and the other is for advanced practice status. The certification exams are offered twice a year, and the deadlines for application are April 1 and September 1 (approximately one month prior to the exam). The certifications and eligibility requirements are as follows:

Certified Addiction Registered Nurse (CARN):

  • Must have a current, unencumbered RN license in US or Canada
  • Minimum 2000 hours (one year of nursing experience)
  • Proof that the individual has completed 30 hours of continuing education related to addiction nursing.
  • Pass the CARN exam ($195-$455, depending on membership status)

Certified Addiction Registered Nurse (CARN-AP):

  • Must have current, unencumbered RN license in US or Canada
  • Master’s degree or higher in nursing
  • Minimum 500 hours of supervised advanced practice clinical experience in direct patient contact related to addiction nursing earned while in the master’s degree program
  • Pass the CARN-AP exam ($295-$555, depending on membership status)

Average Salary

According to, the salary range for addiction or substance abuse RNs is approximately $41,000-$67,000. This is a large range and an actual salary is likely to depend on education and certification level, experience, and the organization.

Job Description

The job of an addiction nurse is unique, in that the treatment they provide is both psychological and physical. According to Johnson & Johnson, these nurses are skilled in pain management and assist with the physical treatment and medication, educate patients and families on the dangers of addiction, and provide psychological support for those who are struggling with addiction. Substance abuse nurses may monitor and assess the detoxification process, participate in patient interventions, or administer drugs to help patients manage their addiction. These individuals may work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, methadone or substance abuse clinics, and psychiatric offices.

Which Skills and Qualifications should I have To Be An Addiction Nurse?

  • Patient care assessment, identifying care requirements
  • Application of the Addiction Severity Index
  • Understanding patient care goals as voiced by the patient, making the patient a major part of his treatment and recovery
  • Exemplary motivational interview and listening skills
  • Interpersonal and group communication skills
  • Critical thinking and shared decision-making ensuring protection of patient’™s self-determination
  • Providing advocacy as needed to ensure patient knows and understands his rights
  • Ensuring patient informed consent
  • Strong nursing skills and holistic health knowledge as addiction is rarely the only treatment necessary
  • Provides compassionate support through all process phases
  • Help patient become independent by meeting care goals and measuring those goals against patient healthcare outcomes, adjusting as necessary.
  • Quality care assurance, following state and nursing guidelines and standards
  • Work on a multidisciplinary team to discuss, assess and resolve patient problems, yet able to work independently
  • Procedure compliance
  • Infection control protocol
  • Charting patient care in patient chart and department charts
  • Documenting and communicating nursing care with next shift
  • Patient confidentiality
  • Troubleshooting equipment
  • Maintain nursing supplies
  • Maintain up-to-date nursing education, including knowledge of Internet resources for those with substance abuse
  • Pediatric and geriatric addiction nursing knowledge
  • Criminology background if needed for work venue
  • 12-step and 3S knowledge and application skills

What are some other Addiction Nurse Skills/Qualifications?

  • Clinical Skills
  • Pharmacotherapy
  • Bedside Manner
  • Infection Control
  • Nursing Skills
  • Physiological Knowledge
  • Behavioral Knowledge
  • Community Nursing Knowledge
  • Administering Medication
  • Medical Teamwork
  • Multi-tasking
  • Listening
  • Verbal Communication

Employment Outlook/Opportunities

Being a certified addictions nurse requires one to be at least an RN. These individuals are employed by a large variety of organizations, ranging from hospitals to rehabilitation clinics.


Certification is awarded for 4 year periods. An individual can renew his or her certification if he or she meets the eligibility requirements mentioned above for certification, submits an application with required fees, and either passes the certification exam or meets the requirements for recertification (2000 clinical hours and 60 points of credit for CARN and 1200 advanced practice clinical hours and 80 points of credit for CARN-AP).

Professional Addiction Associations

  • International Nurses Society On Addictions: Helping nurses across the board to maintain basic addiction care knowledge and skill sets through ‘advocacy, education, research and policy development.’ The International Nurses Society on Addictions (IntNSA) was founded in 1975. Includes the Addictions Nursing Certification Board.
  • The Association for Addiction Professionals provides members with continuing education, webinars, resources, state affiliations, conferences and certification.

Addiction Resources

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