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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: Refraining from use of abusive substances at any time.

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

Addiction Counselor: 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): 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: A group of central nervous system (CNS) depressants used to promote sleep, relieve anxiety, prevent seizures, and aid sedation—examples of benzodiazepines (slang: benzos) include alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), and lorazepam (Ativan).

Case Management: Involves connecting individuals to support services and resources, such as housing, employment, child care, and other services while in treatment for addiction.

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

Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants: 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; however, CNS depressants can be addictive when abused or misused.

Coke Bugs: A slang term for hallucinations that bugs are crawling on or under the skin; the phenomenon can result from chronic, high-dose abuse of stimulant drugs.

Codependence: 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): A form of psychotherapy (talk therapy) that helps people become aware of negative thinking and behaviors to better manage their responses.

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

Co-Occurring Disorders: Term used to describe 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: 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: When a patient sees several doctors to receive multiple drug prescriptions without the doctors’ knowledge.

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

Drug Misuse: Using a drug that’s not specifically prescribed or recommended when there are alternatives available.

Dual Diagnosis: Term used to describe a co-occurring substance use disorder (SUD) and 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: Treatment approaches that have been scientifically validated (backed by objective, scientific evidence).

Hallucinogens: Drugs derived from plants (e.g., mushrooms) or manmade substances that distort perceptions; use can result in delusions or hallucinations—examples include LSD and Peyote/Mescaline.

Inpatient Treatment: An addiction treatment venue (usually a hospital) where patients stay overnight, often for medically assisted detoxification.

Integrated Treatment: An approach that involves combining treatment interventions for two or more disorders, such as a co-occurring mental health disorder and a substance use disorder—also see “co-occurring disorders.” 

Intervention: The specific treatment strategies or therapies used to treat a disorder, including substance use disorders.

Medication Assisted Treatments: The use of medications to treat substance use problems, usually in combination with psychotherapies. There is evidence that combined treatments work better than either medication or therapy alone.

Mood Disorder: A psychological disorder characterized by elevation or dampening of mood. Examples include bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, cyclothymic disorders, and seasonal-affective disorder. Certain substances, including alcohol, prescription medications, and illicit drugs, can cause mood disorders; this is called a substance-induced mood disorder.

Motivational Interviewing: A non-confrontational psychotherapeutic method that helps people find the internal motivation they need to resolve unhealthy behaviors (including substance abuse). Rather than simply giving the patient a directive or advice to change, the therapist uses open-ended questioning and active listening to guide the patient toward the realization that they need to change.

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

Opioids: 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: 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: Occurs when a person uses enough of a substance to provoke a life-threatening reaction or death.

Outpatient Treatment: Non-residential addiction treatment in which the patient lives at home and receives treatment in an office or clinic setting. Outpatient treatment usually involves individual, group, and family counseling and provides health services, as needed. Intensive outpatient programs usually require a greater time commitment (versus traditional outpatient treatment) and may be more suitable for people who need frequent contact with healthcare providers.

Paranoia: A type of delusion or false idea, despite proof to the contrary. People who have delusions may believe others are talking badly about them or want to hurt them. Stimulants, alcohol, and other mind-altering substances can cause paranoia, especially at high doses. Paranoia can also occur during withdrawal from sedative-hypnotic drugs, such as alcohol.

Personality Disorders: A group of mental illnesses characterized by unhealthy and inflexible thoughts and behaviors that cause serious interpersonal issues. Borderline personality disorder, paranoia and delusional disorders, and narcissistic personality disorder are examples of personality disorders.

Physical Dependence: When the body adapts to a substance; refraining from taking the substance causes withdrawal symptoms.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): A disorder characterized by anxiety and flashbacks after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Symptoms include intrusive memories of the event, avoiding thinking or talking about the event, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical or emotional reactions (e.g., being easily startled, trouble concentrating, etc.).

Psychological Dependence: 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: The process of reducing or ceasing use of a substance, followed by specific measures to improve one’s health and wellness. Many people in recovery attend support groups, individual counseling, or group therapy.

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

Remission: A medical term describing a symptom-free period in someone who has 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.

Residential Treatment: An addiction treatment venue where residents live on-site, usually for a minimum of 30 days, but as long as six months. Residential treatment facilities provide some medical treatment, but not hospital care. The staff may consist of nurses, physicians, counselors, addiction specialists, and other specialists.

Reward System (Brain): A group of neural structures in the brain that respond to stimuli by producing dopamine and other “feel-good” chemicals. Brain areas associated with the reward system include the ventral tegmental area (VTA), the nucleus accumbens, and the prefrontal cortex.

Risk Factors: Attributes, characteristics, and exposures that increase a person’s likelihood of regular and harmful substance use and substance use disorders. Risk factors for addiction can include family history (genetics), environment and family life, age of first drug use, method of drug administration (smoking, snorting, injecting, etc.), stress levels, and metabolism (fast metabolism can lead to greater use, which can lead to tolerance).

Self-Medication: Use of a substance to reduce stress, anxiety, or symptoms from mental disorders (e.g., hallucinations, mania, etc.); self-medication may lead to addiction or physical dependence.

Sober Living Home: Also called a sober house, a sober living home is a residence for people in recovery that helps ease the transition between a drug treatment program (often residential treatment) and life in the general community. Residents of sober living homes are typically free to work or go to school, as long as they follow house rules, which may include attending house meetings and 12-step meetings, maintaining the house, and abstaining from drug and alcohol use.

Stigma: A negative association, attitude, or set of beliefs that leads people to discriminate against people or certain conditions, such as mental health disorders. Stigma can fuel myths and misconceptions about addiction, which may prevent those struggling with addiction and/or physical dependence from getting the help they need.

Substance Use Disorder (SUD): A medical condition that causes impaired control over substance use and consequent impairments in health and social function. SUD is recognized as a medical disorder and can range from mild to severe.

Substance Abuse Treatment Program: Services and interventions designed to treat substance use disorders. This includes acute care (e.g., detoxification) and ongoing treatment (e.g., recovery).

THC: The main mind-altering substance in marijuana. THC is short for Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol.

Therapeutic Community: A social setting or treatment environment focused on therapy, healing, and abstinence from substances (e.g., alcohol and illicit drugs). The environment focuses on changing unhealthy behaviors and attitudes and helps people constructively manage emotions, stress, and triggers.

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

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

12-Step Program: A set of guiding principles and actions designed to help those in recovery refrain from compulsive substance use. The steps involve examining destructive behaviors, making amends for harm caused to others, and helping others who also suffer from compulsive behaviors, among other steps. The 12-step program has its roots in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) but has been adapted for other 12-step groups, including Narcotics Anonymous and Gambling Anonymous. New members of 12-step groups are encouraged to find a sponsor who has experience with the program; sponsors serve as a first line of support in case of a potential or actual relapse.

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