Addiction Terms, Phrases & Definitions

A comprehensive list of common terms and phrases related to drug and alcohol addiction and treatment options.

  • Abstinence: Refraining from further drug use.
  • Acetaminophens: Pain relievers (e.g. Tylenol) used to treat headaches, muscle aches, headaches, etc.
  • ACOA: A support group for adult children of alcoholics.
  • Addict: A stigmatising slang term for an individual with an addictive disorder.
  • Addiction Assessment: A way to determine the presence and severity of chemical dependency in a client (considers sociological, psychological, physical, and family factors, etc.).
  • Addiction Treatment: Aims to reduce addiction.
  • Addiction: A repeated activity that continuously causes harm to oneself or others (e.g. a substance’s continuous presence in the bloodstream).
  • Addictive Personality: A trait/traits that develops in response to drug use.
  • Adverse Reaction: A detrimental reaction to a drug (not the desired reaction).
  • Affinity: The strength a drug has that allows it to bind to its receptor.
  • Age at Onset: The age at which one’s addictive behaviour began; an important factor in addiction assessment.
  • Agonist: A drug that activates a receptor in the brain.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA): A voluntary program concerned with helping alcoholics with recovery and continued sobriety.
  • Alkaloids: Plant-produced organic compounds that are the active ingredients in many drugs.
  • Amphetamine: A behavioural stimulant; also known as pep pills.
  • Analgesic: Medication designed to treat pain.
  • Antagonist: A substance that can nullify another’s effects (a drug that does not elicit a response).
  • AOD: Stands for (Alcohol and Other Drugs).
  • AODA: Stands for (Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse).
  • Aspirin: An anti-inflammatory agent used for pain relief.
  • Barbiturate AddictionBarbiturate: A class of sedative-hypnotic compounds that are chemically related through a six-membered ring structure.
  • Benzodiazepine: A group of depressants used to induce sleep, prevent seizures, produce sedation, relieve anxiety and muscle spasms, etc.
  • Bioavailability: A drug’s ability to enter the body.
  • Biofeedback: Signal use to control physiological processes that are normally involuntary.
  • Blood Alcohol Level/Concentration: The concentration level of alcohol in the bloodstream (expressed as a percentage by weight).
  • Buprenorphine: A semi-synthetic partial agonist opioid derived from the baine; used for pain relief (e.g. Buprenex).
  • Caffeine: An alkaloid that acts as a diuretic and a stimulant (found in coffee, tea, etc.).
  • Carcinogen: A cancer-causing chemical agent.
  • Causal Factors: Various antecedent conditions that lead to individual chemical dependency problems (e.g. conditioning, environment, genetics, etc.).
  • Ceiling Effect: Occurs when the dosage of buprenorphine is increased beyond maximum levels and no differences result.
  • Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT): Promotes community-based substance abuse treatment services.
  • Central Nervous System (CNS): The brain and spinal cord.
  • Certified Chemical Dependency Counselor (CCDC): Manages clients in chemical dependency programs to help with addiction recovery
  • Cirrhosis: Chronic liver disease.
  • Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale (COWS): Used to determine the severity of opioid withdrawal.
  • Codeine: The pain-relieving sedative agent contained in opium.
  • Codependence: A family member’s or friend’s suffering that is the result of the side effects of one’s addiction; it occurs when one takes responsibility for another’s actions and helps that person avoid facing his or her problems directly to maintain the relationship.
  • Cold Turkey: Abruptly quitting a drug by choice in order to try to quit long-term.
  • Compulsion: A physical behaviour one repeats involuntarily that can be harmful (e.g., addiction).
  • Conditioning: A behavioural change that results from an association between events.
  • Craving: A powerful and strong desire/urge for a substance; a symptom of the abnormal brain adaptions that result from addiction.
  • Crisis Intervention: The action taken when one’s usual coping resources pose a threat to individual or family functioning.
  • Cross-Dependence: The ability of one drug to prevent the withdrawal symptoms of one’s physical dependence on another.
  • Cross-Tolerance: Occurs when one’s tolerance for one drug results in their lessened response to another.
  • D.O.C.: This stands for drug of choice.
  • Denial: One’s failure to either admit or realise his or her addiction or to recognise and accept the harm it can cause.
  • Depressants: Sedatives that act on the CNS (e.g. to treat anxiety, high blood pressure, tension, etc.).
  • Depression: One of the most frequent types of distress resulting from addiction; an ongoing state of sadness involving the inability to concentrate, inactivity, etc.
  • Detoxification (Detox): The process of the body ridding itself of a toxic substance (e.g. a drug).
  • Disease Model: A theory of alcoholism that considers the addiction a disease rather than a social or psychological issue.
  • Disease: A condition featuring medically significant symptoms that often have a known cause.
  • Doctor Shopping: Occurs when a patient requests care simultaneously from multiple physicians without their knowledge in order to receive higher amounts of medications.
  • Dopamine: A chemical produced naturally by the body; functions in the brain as a neurotransmitter to provide feelings of well-being.
  • Downers: Another name for depressants; these drugs can cause low moods (e.g. alcohol, barbiturates, tranquilizers, etc.).
  • Drug Misuse: One’s use of a drug not specifically recommended or prescribed when there are more practical alternatives; when drug use puts a user or others in danger.
  • Drug Tolerance: A progressive state of decreased responsiveness to a drug.
  • DSM-IV: The handbook most often used for diagnosing mental disorders.
  • Dual-Diagnosis: Mental patients ‘ condition when they are also addicted to any mind-altering drug.
  • DUI: Stands for (driving under influence) (of alcohol or another illicit substance that impairs one’s ability to drive).
  • DWI: Stands for (driving while intoxicated).
  • Dysphoria: The opposite of euphoria.
  • Dysynergy: An addiction’s tendency to cause another (e.g. gateway drugs); an addicted person’s tendency to combine substances.
  • Enabling: Helping an addicted person do things they can or should be doing for themselves; causes disease progression.
  • Endogenous Opioid: The opioids that the body naturally produces in order to help us tolerate pain.
  • Endorphins: Opium-like substances produced by the brain; natural painkillers.
  • Ethanol: The beverage type (ethyl) of alcohol.
  • Euphoria: A pleasurable state of altered consciousness; one reason for the preference of one addictive behaviour or substance over another.
  • Evidence-based Treatment: Scientifically validated treatment approaches.
  • Excipient: An inactive substance added to a drug to help bind the active ingredient.
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS): Birth defects/abnormalities in babies of alcoholic and alcohol abusing mothers.
  • Fetal Drug Syndrome (FDS): Birth defects/abnormalities in babies of drug abusing mothers.
  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Administers federal laws regarding, for example, the safety and effectiveness of drugs.
  • Habit: An outdated term for addiction/physical dependence.
  • Hallucinogen: Chemical substance that distorts perceptions, sometimes resulting in delusions or hallucinations.
  • Harm Reduction: Often the first stage of addiction treatment; reducing therapy instead of stopping the target behaviour.
  • Heroin: An illicit full opioid agonist.
  • Hydrocodone: An effective narcotic analgesic first developed as a cough medication.
  • Addiction Illegal/Illicit Drugs: Drugs that are illegal to produce, use, and sell.
  • Induction: Beginning phase of buprenorphine treatment.
  • Inflation: An addiction behaviour’s tendency to slowly but surely increase in frequency.
  • Intoxication: A state of being drugged or poisoned; results from abuse of alcohol, barbiturates, toxic drugs, etc.
  • Intrinsic Activity: The extent to which a drug activates a receptor.
  • Legal Drugs: Everyday drugs not for medical use (e.g. alcohol, caffeine, carbohydrates, nicotine, etc.).
  • Maintenance: Stabilisation of a patient who is indefinitely on a drug’s lowest effective dose.
  • Medical Model: An addiction theory that considers addiction a medical rather than social issue.
  • Metabolism (of drugs): The chemical and physical reactions carried out by the body to prepare for a drug’s execution.
  • Methadone: A long-acting opiate (synthetically produced).
  • Monotherapy: Therapy using one drug.
  • Morphine: A major sedative/pain reliever found in opium.
  • Mu Agonist: A drug that stimulates physiologic activity on mu opioid cell receptors.
  • Mu Opioid Receptor: Nerve cell receptor that mediates opioid addiction and tolerance through drug-induced activity.
  • Naloxone: An opioid antagonist that blocks the effects of opioid agonists.
  • Naltrexone: A narcotic antagonist that blocks the effects of opioids.
  • Narcotic: A drug that produces sleep/drowsiness and that also relieves pain while being potentially dependence producing.
  • National Board of Addiction Examiners (NBAE): Provides certification for individuals in the addiction field.
  • Negative Reinforcement: Repetitive behaviour to avoid something unpleasant.
  • Neurotransmitter: The natural chemical a neuron releases to communicate with or influence another.
  • Nicotine: Tobacco’s extremely toxic main active ingredient (causes negative CNS stimulation).
  • Nonopioid: A drug that doesn’t activate opioid receptors.
  • Obsession: A mental behaviour one repeats involuntarily that can be harmful (e.g., (needing) an alcoholic drink).
  • Off-Label Use: Physician-approved use of a drug for uses other than those stated on its label.
  • Opiate: The poppy’s natural ingredients and their derivatives (opium, morphine, codeine, and heroin).
  • Opioids: Opium’s synthetic form.
  • Opium: One of the most popular drugs; contained in muscle-relaxers, sleeping pills, and tranquillisers.
  • Over-the-Counter Drugs: Legal non-prescription drugs.
  • Oxycodone: A medicine used for relief of moderate to high pain.
  • Painkillers: Analgesic substances (opioids and nonopioids).
  • Partial Agonists: Bind to and activate receptors to a lesser degree than full agonists.
  • Pharmacology: Scientific branch dealing with the study of drugs and their actions.
  • Physical Dependence: The body’s physiologic adaptation to a substance.
  • Placebo: A substance with no pharmacological elements that may elicit a reaction because of a patient’s mindset.
  • Polysubstance Abuse: Concurrent abuse of more than one substance.
  • Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS): Withdrawal symptoms after initial acute withdrawal.
  • Precipitated Withdrawal Syndrome: Can occur when a patient on full-agonist opioids takes an antagonist.
  • Prescription Drugs: Only available by a physician’s order.
  • Psychedelic Drugs: Produce an intensely pleasurable mental state.
  • Psychoactive Drug: A mind- and behaviour-altering substance.
  • Psychological Dependence: One’s compulsion to use a psychologically based drug for pleasure; may lead to drug misuse.
  • Psychopharmacology: The study of how drugs affect consciousness, mood, sensation, etc.
  • Psychotropic Drug: Any drug that acts on one’s psychic experience or mood behaviour.
  • Rapid Detox: Anaesthesia-assisted detoxification (injection of high doses of an opiate antagonist, followed by an infusion of naloxone).
  • Receptor: Protein on a target cell’s membrane or cytoplasm with which a drug interacts.
  • Recidivism: One’s return to a negative behaviour (relapse) (e.g. drug use).
  • Recovery Rates: The percentage of addicted persons undergoing treatment who partake in abstinence in their first year.
  • Recovery: Reducing or ceasing substance abuse; often followed by one’s personal life being turned around by way of a supportive environment.
  • Relapse Prevention: A therapeutic process that interrupts believes and behaviours that result in lifestyle dysfunction.
  • Relapse: Symptom recurrence after a period of sobriety or drug use cessation.
  • Remission: A symptom-free period.
  • Reversed Tolerance: When a lower dose of a drug produces the same desired or observed effect that previously resulted only with higher dosages.
  • Screening: Measurement tool for the extent of one’s addiction (e.g., self-completion questionnaire/life-history assessment).
  • Self-Help Group: Group of individuals dealing with similar issues that meets to support each other and share helpful information (e.g. AA).
  • Side Effects: Secondary effects of a drug; these are usually undesirable.
  • Societal Denial: Society’s denial of the historical value of drug-induced pleasure and euphoria.
  • Steroids: A group of cyclic, solid unsaturated alcohols (e.g. cholesterol).
  • Stimulant: Drugs that act on the CNS, resulting in alertness, excitation, and wakefulness.
  • Straight-Edge: A term for people who don ‘t use drugs.
  • Sublingual: Drugs that enter the blood through the membranes under the tongue.
  • Substance Abuse (Chemical Dependence): A maladaptive pattern of recurrent substance use that leads to impairment or distress that is clinically significant.
  • Substance Dependence: An adaptive state that develops from repeated drug administration, and which results in withdrawal symptoms.
  • Synergism: The greater effect that results when one takes more than one drug simultaneously.
  • Synthetic: Not natural occurring.
  • Talc: Dangerous substance used in manufacturing pharmaceuticals.
  • Therapeutic Community: A setting where people with similar issues can meet to support each other’s recovery.
  • Therapeutic Dependence: Patients ‘ tendency to demonstrate drug-seeking behaviours because they fear withdrawal symptoms.
  • Titration: The gradual adjustment of the amount of a drug.
  • Tolerance: Condition in which one must increase their use of a drug for it to have the same effect.
  • Toxicity: A degree of poisonous.
  • Tranquillisers: A type of drug that can help relieve the symptoms of severe psychosis.
  • Trigger: Anything that results in psychological and then physical relapse.
  • Ups or Uppers: Drugs that produce a euphoric effect (e.g. stimulants, amphetamines).
  • Urge-Peak Cycle: Ongoing urge-peaks, usually followed by relapse.
  • Urge-Peak: A sudden, unpredictable increase in addiction cravings; they usually involve temporary mental unawareness (e.g. not realising the amount of drinks one has had).
  • Urges: Less powerful desires than cravings; can be suppressed by willpower.
  • User: Outdated term used to describe one who misuses alcohol or drugs.
  • Withdrawal Symptoms: Severe and excruciating physical and emotional symptoms that generally occur between 4 to 72 hours after opiate withdrawal (e.g., watery eyes, yawning, loss of appetite, panic, insomnia, vomiting, shaking, irritability, jitters, etc.).
  • Withdrawal Syndrome: Combined reactions or behaviours that result from the abrupt cessation of a drug one is dependent on.
  • Withdrawal: The abrupt decrease in or removal of one’s regular dosage of a psychoactive substance.