Substance Abuse Nurse Practitioner: Job Description & Salary

Substance abuse nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses who specialize in working with patients with addiction issues. These professionals have an above average job outlook in the coming years.

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What is a Substance Abuse Nurse Practitioner?

Substance abuse nurse practitioners (NPs) work with patients who are addicted to alcohol, drugs or other harmful substances. These professionals have specialized knowledge about physical symptoms related to substance abuse, such as tremors and heart palpations, and also can recognize mental health issues - like depression and anxiety - that are associated with the rehabilitation process.

Substance abuse nurse practitioners typically work at substance abuse treatment centers or hospitals, where they are part of a care team that usually includes physicians, counselors and psychiatrists. Substance abuse NPs perform physical exams, order tests, and diagnose and treat substance abuse disorders. Treatment might include physical and/or inhalation therapies, as well as medications. They also educate patients' family members about their loved ones' treatment and ways they can help patients stay sober.

Educational Requirements Master's degree in nursing
Job Skills Strong written and verbal communication skills, ability to work in a team, critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, good listener, motivational skills
Median Salary (2016)* $100,910 (nurse practitioner)
Job Outlook (2016-2026)* 36% (nurse practitioner)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

Substance abuse nurse practitioners need at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). These programs often are available with a specialty in substance abuse disorders or psychiatric-mental health nursing. Prospective substance abuse NPs also might choose to pursue a Doctor of Nursing practice (DNP).

After completing their graduate degree program, substance abuse NPs must earn nurse practitioner licensure in the state where they'll work, if necessary. In addition to a master's or doctoral degree in nursing, NPs typically must be a current registered nurse (RN) and pass a national exam to become licensed.

Employers also might seek substance abuse nurse practitioners who have earned Substance Abuse Practitioner Certification through the American Institute for Health Care Professionals. Candidates for this credential must meet education and career standards, such as licensure as a registered nurse. Those who hold this certification can use the title Certified Substance Abuse Practitioner.

Required Skills

Substance abuse nurse practitioners must work well with others since they're typically part of a care team. Additionally, they need strong written and verbal communication skills, not just for communicating with their team members, but also for communicating with patients and their family members. Substance abuse NPs must be able to think critically and solve problems to create treatment plans that are best suited to each patient's unique situation. They also must have listening skills to fully understand their patients' needs and motivational skills to inspire their patients to stick with their treatment programs.

Career Outlook and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that nurse practitioners in general should experience 36% growth in employment in the decade spanning 2016 to 2026. This is much higher than the average for all occupations. In a separate report on substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors, the BLS noted that careers in this field also are expected to grow as sentences for drug and other substance abuse offenders increasingly include treatment and counseling in addition to, or in lieu of, jail time.

For salary purposes, nurse practitioners earned a median annual salary of $100,910 in 2016, according to the BLS.

Related Careers

People interested in substance abuse nursing also might want to explore the following careers in nursing and substance abuse counseling:

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