Substance Abuse

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The World Health Organization defines substance abuse as “the harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs” and is prevalent with approximately 120 million users of illicit drugs such as cocaine, heroin and other synthetic drugs. As a healthcare worker, you may encounter coworkers and clients who might be misusing a drug, such as prescription medication. The learner will discover that because of the complex nature of addiction, treatment may be equally complex.

Substance Abuse Course Outline (3 CEUs):
  • Chapter One: Definitions

Before we begin discussing substance abuse and its relation to health care workers and other aspects of the subject, we will first begin by defining a few terms that you will see throughout this unit.

  • Chapter Two: Substance Abuse Overview

According to the World Health Organization, substance abuse is defined as “the harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs.”i There are a number of substances that people select to abuse, though some are more commonly abused than others. There are also substances that are more commonly abused among certain socioeconomic groups and age groups.

  • Chapter Three: Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Alcoholism and alcohol abuse are not the same thing, but they are both forms of problem drinking. The U.S. National Library of Medicine defines the differences this way: “alcoholism is when you have signs of physical addiction to alcohol and continue to drink, despite problems with physical health, mental health, and social, family, or job responsibilities. Alcohol may control your life or relationships. Alcohol abuse is when your drinking leads to problems, but not physical addiction.”ii Alcohol abuse is also less likely to include a built-up tolerance, which alcoholism includes it.iii

  • Chapter Four: Signs of Substance Abuse in Health Care Workers

Over 70 percent of substance abusers hold jobs, which makes it likely that you may work with someone or know someone in your field who is an abuser. According to the American Council for Drug Education, one in three employees in America knows where to get drugs in the workplace.

  • Chapter Five: Addicted Coworkers: Should You Become Involved?

There are a number of reasons you might not want to become involved if you suspect a coworker has a substance abuse problem. You might not want to get the person in trouble, or you might not feel like it’s any of your business what your coworkers do. You might even be afraid of what your coworker might do in retaliation, or what might happen if you are actually wrong about the substance abuse.

  • Chapter Six: Substance Abuse and Stress/Trauma

The effects of substance abuse in highly stressful and traumatic jobs doesn’t just affect the employee. It also affects the people the employees are intended to help. The first links between trauma/stress and substance abuse were found in veterans of the Vietnam War. Many veterans experienced Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and were using substances to deal with their condition.iv

  • Chapter Seven: Treatment for Substance Abuse

While a person’s initial decision to abuse a substance is a choice, eventually, an abuser will become addicted. Complex effects on the brain make the addition a physical compulsion that results in devastating consequences to the user and his or her family. Addicts need treatment from professionals. Some addictions, such as alcoholism, are considered chronic (that is, they last for a lifetime), and will require a lifetime of careful living.v




i World Health Organization, “Substance Abuse,”


ii U.S. National Library of Medicine, “Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse,”


iii NIAAA Brochure, Health/Alcoholism, “What is Alcohol Abuse?”


iv AddictionSearch, “Substance Abuse Among Healthcare Professionals,”


v National Institute on Drug Abuse, “DrugFacts: Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction,”



Continuing education units (CEUs) are provided via electronic download in PDF format. Review the course work at your own pace and then take the included test online. You can print your certificate immediately after passing each test! All coursework is NCBTMB approved (NCBTMB # 451897-12). NOTE: Each state has different requirements. Please be sure to check our state requirements page and contact your state to verify your requirements.