Nurses play a vital role in helping patients undergoing drug or alcohol rehabilitation.
At SANCA Wedge Gardens Treatment Centre, in Whitney Gardens, nurses care for patients during detox, treatment and at the halfway house. From day one, the nurses are there to ensure patients are safe, comfortable and supported.
For patients taking the first steps to getting sober, the first few hours and days can be difficult, physically and mentally.
“Our patients are often angry, fearful, irritable and ashamed. We see them at their absolute worst,” says Estelle Raath, SANCA Wedge Gardens’ deputy manager.
“Some have been drinking or drugging one last time before they come in for treatment. Their mental state when they get here is poor. Lots of patients are humiliated that their drinking or drug use has come to this. Some come in as a last effort to save their job or marriage or to get their kids back,” she adds.
During admission, nurses conduct a full assessment and take the patient’s medical history. The assessment includes determining the severity of alcohol and drug dependence; their physical health and chronic conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, HIV or hepatitis; and establishing whether they are dual diagnosis patients (if they have a co-existing mental health problem, such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder).
“Nurses also assess patients for compliance to chronic medication, as most patients neglect taking their chronic medication when they abuse alcohol or drugs. Most patients neglect eating balanced meals when using drugs and alcohol, but you can see the physical change a few weeks later,” says Raath.
The nursing team works with a general practitioner to assess all patients coming in and to assist them with a detox regime according to their substance of abuse. On admission, drug and alcohol screening tests are done so that the general practitioner can get a full picture of what substances they are using.
“Patients in detox can have severe withdrawal symptoms, caused by the body’s response to going without the substance. Patients sometimes experience anxiety, depression, mood swings and even thoughts of suicide when going through withdrawal from drugs.
“Nurses monitor vital signs and stay alert for signs and symptoms of withdrawal. They administer medication, as prescribed by the general practitioner, to manage withdrawal symptoms, and make sure that patients feel comfortable, supported and well taken care of throughout the detox process,” says Raath.
Because addiction is both a physical and psychological health issue, substance abuse nurses need experience in general medical care and mental health.
“They also play a teaching role in terms of health education and give medical lectures about the dangers of drug abuse and how to make changes through lifestyle management.
“Of all the specialty nursing fields nurses might choose, substance abuse nursing provides an opportunity to not only help those in immediate need, but also help them and their loved ones possibly enjoy a better future,” says Raath.
For more information about SANCA Wedge Gardens and the Full Circle Recovery Programme, visit www.wedgegardens.co.za