If I were to ask you if you thought those who are dependent on substances and members of their family were subjected to negativity from some healthcare professionals, what would your honest answer be?
I would love to answer this with “no way” but unfortunately I have heard it, seen it and been subjected to it when caring for a loved one who was experiencing addiction.
The thing is I don’t believe that it is borne out of malice but a lack of understanding.
If you’ve not personally experienced the effects of addiction how can you grasp the feelings of desperation, guilt, anger, and heartbreak? And let’s be honest, individuals experiencing addiction are often seen as challenging because of their behaviour, which I believe some professionals find difficult to understand and empathise with.
I have been aware of the effects of addiction from an early age.
Sadly I have seen people from my childhood die from drug addiction and lived in a home where I came second, third and fourth place to it. This experience has certainly been a factor in my career choice and I applied to do my nurse training with the ambition that eventually I will specialise in substance misuse.
For my 3rd year sign-off placement I’ve been placed at a centre for individuals experiencing addiction. This is a first for my university campus and the first time the centre has taken an adult branch student nurse.
It is often assumed that only mental health nurses practice in substance misuse, for this placement that is not the case.
From a student point of view the opportunity to work closely with mental health nurses has been invaluable for gaining extra knowledge and will enhance my overall development.
It is important that as a profession we realise that we can all play a part in recovery despite our area of practice. Recognising the signs of addiction, referring patients to the correct services are steps that can be taken throughout the healthcare system. Also acknowledging that more education and exposure in this area is required will be another positive step forward.
After all, it is very likely that we will all encounter an individual experiencing addiction at some point in our career!
My reality is that not every client I see will complete the programme or stay abstinent afterwards.
I hope that those people will not be dismissed and will be given the encouragement and the opportunity to keep trying, if they wish to do so. The positives of working in this area are that so many clients have the potential to experience life addiction free and will achieve this.
It will be hard and a journey that will not be taken lightly, I believe this deserves respect from healthcare professionals.
Unfortunately the age-old argument as to whether addiction is an illness or a lifestyle choice will always hang over the care of these people. Whatever your opinion the fact is that the consequences of addiction are most definitely a healthcare issue and should be treated as such; deserving of the same compassion and care that would be given to any patient.
Maybe my personal experience has allowed me a little more understanding of substance misuse, I intend to use this and help clients and their families.
You see, I know how it feels for your heart to break as you watch a person you love destroy themselves.
But I also know that the heart can be rebuilt as you witness your loved one enter recovery and rebuild their life. Now 13 years substance free, living a happy and successful life.
There is always hope, we just need to offer it to those who need it.
Leanne Siekiera is Student Nursing Times’ student editor for adult branch