Addiction Nurse Careers and Salary Outlook

January 21, 2022 · 5 Min Read

If you want to become an addiction nurse but aren't sure where to start, we have all the information you need. Learn about education and licensing requirements and find nursing schools and programs near you and online.

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Individuals who want to help patients dealing with addiction to drugs and alcohol may want to learn how to become an addiction nurse. What does an addiction nurse do and how much does an addiction nurse make? This guide provides an overview of this unique career. Prospective nurses can explore this page for information on addiction nurse degree options, addiction nurse salary trends, and career outlook.

What is an Addiction Nurse?

Addiction nurses must be registered nurses with the appropriate licensure and the required certification in addiction nursing. Generally, these nurses work in substance abuse rehabilitation centers, hospitals, detox centers, and other locations that serve patients struggling with substance abuse and addiction. These nurses guide and help patients navigate the difficult process of coping with and overcoming addiction.
What Do Addiction Nurses Do? Addiction nurses are registered nurses who have specialized in pain management and behavioral psychology. They support patients undergoing therapy for drug or alcohol rehabilitation, and they teach patients why it's critical to maintain a clean and healthy lifestyle. Throughout treatment, addiction nurses monitor pain levels, medication dosages, and mental and physical symptoms. Addiction nurses often work in patient intake and assess patients as they enter addiction treatment. They work alongside doctors to determine each patient's unique needs and develop treatment plans. In addition to providing patient support, addiction nurses may educate families on the process of detox and rehabilitation. Addiction nurses often provide resources for maintaining psychological health throughout the process. On rare occasions, addiction nurses may work with police and court systems to implement court-ordered rehabilitation in place of jail time. They may also work inside jail and prison systems, assisting prisoners dealing with detox from substance abuse.
Where Do Addiction Nurses Work? Addiction nurses work in many job settings and treat patients of all ages and backgrounds. They often work in hospitals and substance abuse rehabilitation clinics, monitoring the care and treatment of patients seeking help with overcoming their addictions. Addiction nurses work in both public and private medical settings. Some addiction nurses work in educational settings, including university health centers. Experienced nurses may provide continuing education courses for other nurses. They may also work alongside law enforcement and community groups attempting to tackle growing substance abuse issues.
Skills That Could Affect Addiction Nurse Salaries After earning regular nursing licensure, prospective addiction nurses generally take continuing education courses in the field and complete supervised practice hours in an addiction care setting. These supervised hours and continuing education courses give nurses the additional skills they need to succeed as addiction nurses. These professionals must be able to work alongside physicians to create and implement addiction treatment plans. Addiction nurses must also assess patient needs and provide education and counseling on addiction. Addiction nurses need superior listening and communication skills. They also need a strong attention to detail and time management. These skills can help addiction nurses advance in the field and obtain higher salaries.

How to Become an Addiction Nurse

Addiction nurses need certain licenses and certifications that take time to earn. These nurses must complete college courses in subjects like anatomy and physiology, biology, and chemistry. Prospective addiction nurses must also pass difficult licensing exams and possess a strong working knowledge of general nursing practice in addition to special skills and knowledge in addiction treatment. Nurses with a desire to help others through difficult times, both physically and emotionally, may find addiction nursing an especially rewarding career.


Addiction nurses need a registered nurse license, which requires an associate or bachelor's in nursing. Nurses must also pass the NCLEX-RN exam. Depending on the degree path, learners may need 2-4 years to complete these requirements. Many addiction nurses pursue a certification in addiction nursing after earning their RN license, which can take an additional 6-12 months. Nurses with a bachelor's degree not only enjoy higher earning potential, but they can also pursue further education and more advanced roles, such as a nurse educator, charge nurse, or nurse practitioner. Specialization requirements vary by state.

Training and Certification

The RN license is the basic requirement for practicing as an addiction nurse. However, many addiction nurses pursue a certification that allows them to practice specifically in substance abuse recovery. The Certified Addictions Registered Nurse (CARN) certification from the Center for Nursing Education and Testing provides the credentials nurses need to succeed in the field. The CARN certification requires a current RN license. Professionals must complete a minimum of 2,000 hours of nursing practice in addiction over one year along with 30 hours of continuing education in the field. Finally, applicants must sit for the CARN exam and earn at least a 75% score. This certification requires renewal every four years, and nurses must complete required continuing education units during that period. Some states may maintain additional or different requirements for substance abuse and addiction nurses, so prospective nurses should check with their state's nursing board.

Addiction Nurse Salaries and Job Growth

Addiction nursing exists as a specialty for registered nurses, meaning all addiction nurses hold licenses as registered nurses. Fortunately, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs for registered nurses will continue to grow at a rate much faster than average compared to other occupations. According to BLS data, California, Texas, and New York offer the highest employment levels for registered nurses, and nurses in California, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia earn the highest average salaries. Addiction nurses may earn more depending on career experience. Often, nurses who pursue higher degrees qualify for more advanced roles that pay more, such as nurse practitioners. These positions often pay more because they require graduate degrees along with more difficult and advanced work duties. Earning different certifications, such as the CARN, can sometimes lead to a higher salary.
Highest Salary Locations for Registered Nurses
National Median $63,263
Los Angeles, California $86,670
New York, New York $82,874
Chicago, Illinois $71,487
Dallas, Texas $65,793
Denver, Colorado $65,793

Source: PayScale

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Median Salary for Addiction Nurses by Career Experience

  • Entry Level: $53,736
  • Early Career: $59,439
  • Mid Career: $65,530
  • Experienced: $69,027
  • Late Career: $72,001
  • Source: PayScale

    Related Job Salaries
    Registered Nurse (RN) Certified Nurse Assistant Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) Registered Nurse (RN), Emergency Room Registered Nurse (RN), Critical Care
    $63,393 $27,891 $43,528 $66,391 $72,656

    Source: PayScale

    Addiction Nurse Resources

    • International Nurses Society on Addictions Originally founded as the National Nurses Society on Alcoholism in 1975, this now-global organization aims for progress and advancement in nursing care to prevent and treat addiction. This society offers nurses access to a support group of other practitioners on Slack, continuing education classes, and awards opportunities.
    • American Society of Addiction Medicine This organization boasts a membership of more than 6,000 professionals in addiction medicine, including addiction nurses and physicians. Members enjoy access to the Journal of Addiction Medicine, continuing education courses, and award and scholarship opportunities. The society also provides advocacy for professionals in the field and access to a variety of events throughout the year.
    • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration An agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, SAMHSA aims to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America's communities. The website offers a variety of resources for nurses, including practitioner training tools, the Providers Clinical Support System, and the Rural Opioid Technical Assistance program.
    • Job Search has provided resources and support for nurses for more than 30 years, including continuing education, online learning, blogs, and a broad network of more than 8,000 healthcare organizations. The website also provides a comprehensive job search tool that allows prospective addiction nurses to browse jobs in their specialty area based on geographic location and contract type.
    • Center for Nursing Education and Testing The Center for Nursing Education and Testing provides a variety of professional certifications for nurses, including the Certified Addictions Registered Nurse and Certified Addictions Registered Nurse - Advanced Practice certification options. On the website, prospective addiction nurses can download study material for the certification exams, learn about the tests, and register. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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