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Addiction Glossary

At RECO Intensive, an important part of what we do at our outpatient treatment center in Delray Beach is educating our clients and their loved ones about addiction—what it is, its underlying causes and risk factors, and how it’s treated.

In keeping with that mission, we’ve put together this helpful glossary of addiction terms and phrases, based on the latest addiction science. While it is not a complete list, it includes some of the most common terms and phrases used today.

Abstinence: This refers to not using substances of abuse at any time.

Addict: This is a slang term for a person who suffers from an addictive disorder. Medical professionals and addiction treatment providers increasingly refrain from using this term due to the stigma it creates.

Addiction: This is a chronic disorder characterized by the compulsive use of a substance, despite negative consequences, and possible long-lasting changes in the brain.

Addiction Counselor: These are addiction treatment providers who specialize in individual and group counseling for those in treatment for addiction. Depending on the state where they practice, addiction counselors may be known as substance abuse counselors (SACs), certified alcohol and drug counselors (CADCs), or credentialed alcoholism and substance abuse counselors (CASACs).

Addiction Medicine Specialist: A physician who specializes in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of addiction. Addiction medicine specialists are often board-certified by the American Board of Addiction Medicine.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA): This is a voluntary, worldwide support organization that follows a set of guiding principles to help individuals maintain their sobriety.

Barbiturates: A class of drugs that act on the central nervous system (CNS) to promote sleep and relaxation. Barbiturates are also used for seizure disorders and during surgery to relieve anxiety.

Benzodiazepines: This is a group of central nervous system (CNS) depressants used to promote sleep, relieve anxiety, prevent seizures, and for sedation—examples of benzodiazepines (slang: benzos) include alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), and lorazepam (Ativan).

Central Nervous System (CNS): This is the system of nerves in the brain and spinal cord.

Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants: This is a class of prescription drugs that includes sedatives, tranquilizers, and hypnotics. CNS depressants slow brain activity, making them useful for treating anxiety, panic, sleep disorders, and acute stress reactions.

Codependence: This refers to a dysfunctional relationship in which one person supports or enables another person’s addiction, irresponsibility, or poor mental health. The concept of codependency is somewhat controversial—not all medical professionals recognize it as a clinical disorder.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This is a form of psychotherapy (talk therapy) that helps people become aware of negative thinking and behaviors in order to better manage their responses.

Compulsion: This is an irresistible urge to repeat a specific behavior, often to a person’s own detriment.

Co-Occurring Disorders: This refers to a situation in which a person has both a substance use disorder (SUD) and a mental health disorder, such as depression or borderline personality disorder—also see “dual diagnosis”.

Craving: A powerful and often overwhelming urge to use a substance. Cravings can be caused by changes to the brain that occur as a result of repeated substance use.

Detoxification: This describes the process of ridding the body of a substance (e.g., drugs or alcohol) or its metabolites. Detoxification (detox) is often the first step in a drug treatment program, especially for those who are physically dependent on the substance.

Doctor Shopping: This refers to when a patient sees several doctors to receive multiple drug prescriptions without the doctors’ knowledge.

Drug Abuse: This refers to drug use that is unsafe or leads to interpersonal problems, legal troubles, or other problems. Drug abuse is an older diagnostic term that is falling out of favor with medical professionals.

Drug Misuse: This refers to using a drug that’s not specifically prescribed or recommended when there are alternatives available.

Dual Diagnosis: This refers to a situation in which a person has both a substance use disorder (SUD) and a mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression. This term is mostly used by addiction treatment specialists, although it is falling out of favor—also see “co-occurring disorders”.

Evidence-Based Treatment: These are treatment approaches that have been scientifically validated (backed by objective, scientific evidence).

Hallucinogen: These are drugs derived from plants (e.g., mushrooms) or manmade substances that distort perceptions. This can result in delusions or hallucinations—examples include LSD and Peyote/Mescaline.

Opiates: These are drugs made from the natural ingredients or derivates of the poppy plant—examples of opiates include opium and morphine.

Opioids: These are drugs that act on opioid receptors in the brain and produce morphine-like effects. Opioid is a broad term that includes natural, semi-synthetic, and synthetic drug forms—examples include opium (natural), heroin (semi-synthetic), and oxycodone (synthetic).

Opioid Receptors: These are proteins on the surface of certain nerve cells in the brain. Opioid receptors are activated by natural opioids like endorphins, as well as opioid drugs like heroin. There are three receptor subtypes: mu, kappa, and delta.

Overdose: This occurs when a person uses enough of a substance to provoke a life-threatening reaction or death.

Physical Dependence: When the body adapts to a substance, not taking the substance causes withdrawal symptoms.

Psychological Dependence: This describes a compulsion to use a drug for pleasure or to cope with stress or emotions. Repeated substance use can cause changes in the brain that lead to psychological dependence.

Recovery: This entails ceasing or reducing the use of a substance, followed by specific measures to improve one’s health and wellness. This often involves ongoing attendance in support groups or individual counseling.

Relapse: Using a substance again after a sustained period of abstinence is called a relapse. It is common in many chronic health disorders, including substance use disorders (SUDs).

Remission: A medical term describing a symptom-free period for those who have a chronic disease, in the context of addiction, remission refers to not experiencing the negative symptoms of substance use, either because of abstinence or through managed use.

Substance Use Disorder (SUD): This refers to the disordered use of a substance or substances that causes impaired control over substance use and impairments in health and social function. SUD is recognized as a medical disorder and can range from mild to severe.

Tolerance: This is a condition in which a person must use higher doses of a drug to achieve the same effect.

Withdrawal: This refers to symptoms that occur after a person stops using a drug or reduces use. Symptoms vary by substance, but can include nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, cramping, anxiety, agitation, and stress.