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Addiction Treatment Glossary


In our addiction treatment glossary page, we want to help you learn more about addiction, rehab, and the recovery process. Explore this page to learn the most commonly used terms to explain substance abuse, its treatment, and the recovery process.


Abstinence: the act of refraining from any substances or unhealthy behaviors.

Acetaminophen: a common pain reliever like Tylenol, available over-the-counter to help with headaches, muscle aches, and other pain conditions.

Addiction assessment: a way to determine the prevalence of chemical dependency in a patient or the extent of someone’s addiction. The first assessment is done over the phone, followed up by a second in-person assessment during the admission process.

Addiction: a progressive disorder that causes someone to repeat an activity despite the consequences or damage it causes themselves or others.

Addictive personality: someone with an addictive personality has a set of trait that makes them more prone to develop addictions to substances, behavioral addictions, or other habit-forming behaviors.

Adverse reaction: an adverse reaction (ADR) is an injury caused by taking a medication. It can happen following a single dose or prolonged administration of a drug.

Age at onset: the age at which someone’s addictive behavior started, which is an important factor in assessing an addiction.

Agonist: a drug that activates receptors in the brain.

Alkaloids: plant-produced organic compounds that are the active ingredients in many drugs.

Amphetamine: a stimulant used in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy, and obesity.

Analgesics: a group of drugs used to relieve pain symptoms.

Antagonist: a substance that can nullify the effects of another drug. It blocks a biological response by binding to a receptor rather than provoking the response of an agonist.


Barbiturate: a drug that acts as a central nervous system depressant and can produce a wide spectrum of effects.

Benzodiazepine: a type of depressant used to induce sleep, prevent seizures, produce sedation, relieve anxiety, and other sedative effects.

Bioavailability: a drug’s ability to enter the body.

Biofeedback: the process of gaining awareness of physiological functions like heart rate. This is often used in addiction treatment to improve health, performance, and behavior.

Blood alcohol level: the concentration of alcohol in the bloodstream at any given time.


Caffeine: an alkaloid that acts as a stimulant.

Carcinogen: a cancer-causing chemical agent found in substances like tobacco.

Ceiling effect: a reaction that occurs when a dosage of buprenorphine is increased beyond maximum levels and the person experiences no difference.

Central nervous system: the central nervous system (CNS) connects the brain and the spinal cord.

Cirrhosis: a chronic disease that causes permanent liver damage and can lead to liver failure.

Clinical opiate withdrawal scale: the clinical opiate withdrawal scale (OWS) is used to determine the severity of opioid withdrawal.

Codeine: a pain-relieving sedative available in opium.

Codependency: an emotional or psychological reliance on another person, typically a partner, loved one, or family member who requires support due to an illness.

Cold turkey: the act of abruptly quitting a drug or substance by choice.

Compulsion: a psychological compulsion that causes a person to act compulsively, having an overwhelming feeling that they must do something.

Craving: a strong desire for a substance, food, or activity. This is a common symptom of abnormal brain adaptations that result from addiction.

Crisis intervention: a method used to offer immediate, short-term help to people experiencing an event that produces emotional, physical, and behavioral distress or problems. Crisis intervention is very common after someone suffers an overdose or an accident.

Cross-dependence: the ability of one drug to suppress the withdrawal symptoms of physical dependence on another. For example, methadone is used to suppress symptoms of heroin withdrawal.

Cross-tolerance: occurs when someone’s tolerance for one drug results in their lessened response to another.


Denial: someone’s failure to admit their addiction or recognize the harm they have caused to themselves and others.

Depressants: sedatives that act on the central nervous system.

Depression: a mental health disorder characterized by a persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities that cause significant impairment in daily life.

Detox: detoxification is a medical process to remove toxic substances from the body.

Disease model: a theory that considers addiction a disease rather than a social issue.

Dopamine: a chemical produced naturally by the body and found in the brain. Dopamine acts as a neurotransmitter to send signals to other nerve cells. One of the brain’s dopamine pathways is responsible for reward-motivated behavior. Most drugs increase dopamine in the brain, which directly impacts the reward-motivation system of the brain.

Drug addiction: a brain disorder characterized by a compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli from drugs despite harmful consequences.

Drug misuse: when someone uses a drug that’s not specifically recommended or prescribed when there are more practical alternatives. Drug misuse also occurs when someone uses drugs for longer than prescribed, at higher doses than prescribed, through other mechanisms that may cause harm.

Drug tolerance: a progressive state of decreased responsiveness to a substance.

Dual diagnosis: the term used to describe a person who has a mental health disorder and a problem with alcohol or drugs.

DUI: stands for Driving Under the Influence of alcohol or another substance that impairs someone’s ability to drive.

DWI: stands for driving while intoxicated.

Dysphoria: a state of unease or generalized dissatisfaction with life.


Enabling: the act of helping an addicted person do the things they can or should be doing for themselves.

Endorphins: opium-like substances produced naturally by the brain that have pain-relieving effects.

Ethanol: the compound of simple alcohol.

Euphoria: a pleasurable state of altered consciousness.

Evidence-based treatment: scientifically validated treatment with studies and extensive research proving the effectiveness of a particular treatment. The goal of EBT is to encourage the use of safe and effective treatments.


Fetal alcohol syndrome: fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) occurs when birth defects and abnormalities in babies are the results of their mothers abusing alcohol during pregnancy.

Fetal drug syndrome: fetal drug syndrome (FDS) is a disease that causes birth defects and abnormalities in babies of mothers that abused drugs during pregnancy.


Hallucinogen: a chemical substance that distorts perception, sometimes resulting in delusions and hallucinations.

Harm reduction: a way of treatment and program designed to stop harmful behavior.

Heroin: an opioid used as a recreational drug due to its euphoric effects. In several countries, heroin is still used to relieve pain or in opioid replacement therapy.

Hydrocodone: an effective narcotic analgesic that was first intended to be a cough medication.


Inflation: an addiction behavior that makes someone slowly but surely increase their substance use frequency.

Intoxication: a state of being poisoned that can result from misusing and abusing substances.


Legal drugs: drugs that are legal to use, such as alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and now, marijuana.


Maintenance: stabilization of a patient who’s on a drug’s lowest effective dose.

Metabolism of drugs: the chemical and physical reactions the body does to prepare for a drug execution.

Methadone: an opioid used to treat pain. It can also be used during medication-assisted treatment to help with tapering opioid dependence.

Morphine: a natural opioid found in a number of plants that directly affects the central nervous system to reduce pain.


Naloxone: sold under the name Narcan, naloxone is a medication that blocks the effects of opioid overdose.

Naltrexone: a medication that stops the activity of opioids.

Narcotic: a drug that produces drowsiness, relieves pain, and can be habit-forming.

Neurotransmitter: chemical messengers that enable neurotransmission. They send signals across a chemical synapse, such as from one neuron to another.

Nicotine: tobacco’s main ingredient that produces calming sensations.

Nonopioid: a drug that doesn’t activate the opioid receptors of the brain.


Obsession: a mental behavior that someone repeats involuntarily that can be harmful.

Off-label use: a physician-approved use of a drug for uses other than those stated in its label.

Opiate: the poppy plant’s natural ingredients and their derivatives, including opium, morphione, codeine, and heroin.

Opioids: opium’s synthetic form with similar effects to morphine used for pain relief, including anesthesia.

Opium: dried latex obtained from the poppy plant that contains morphine.

Over-the-counter drugs: medications that don’t require a prescription and are sold over the counter, which means on the shelves of a pharmacy or grocery store.

Oxycodone: a popular prescription medication that belongs to the opioid family and it’s used to treat moderate to severe pain.


Painkillers: analgesic substances that reduce moderate to severe pain.

Partial agonist: substances that bind and activate receptors at a lesser degree than full agonists.

Pharmacology: a scientific branch of medicine that looks at the uses, effects, and types of actions of drugs.

Physical dependence: the body’s physiologic adaptation to a substance.

Placebo: a substance with no pharmacological elements that may produce a reaction because of a patient’s mindset.

Polysubstance abuse: when someone abuses more than one substance at any given point.

Post-acute withdrawal symptom: also known as PAWS, this syndrome occurs when someone continues to experience withdrawal symptoms despite going through an initial withdrawal episode.

Precipitated withdrawal syndrome: occurs when a full agonist (heroin) is displaced from opioid receptors by an antagonist (naloxone).

Prescription drugs: medications that are only available with a physician’s order.

Psychedelic drugs: a class of drugs that price an intensely pleasurable mental state.

Psychoactive drugs: a mind- and behavior-altering type of drug that produces psychological effects.

Psychological dependence: this term is used to describe the emotional and mental process of developing an addiction. In this case, someone struggles with a purely mental (not physical) urge to use drugs.

Physiological dependence: when someone experiences a compulsion to use a drug for pleasure.

Psychopharmacology: the study of how drugs affect people psychologically.

Psychotropic drugs: any drug that acts on people’s psychic experience or mood behavior.


Receptor: a protein that receives signals from neurotransmitters.

Recovery rate: the percentage of addicted persons undergoing treatment who remain abstinent or sober in their first year.

Recovery: the period in which someone reduces or ceases substance abuse.

Relapse prevention plan: a relapse prevention plan explains how someone can prevent relapse or return to substance abuse after being in recovery.

Relapse: the recurrence of symptoms after a period of recovery, sobriety, or drug use cessation.

Remission: a symptom-free period.

Reversed tolerance: when a lower dose of a substance produces the same desired or observed effects that higher dosages.


Screening: a measurement tool to understand the extent of someone’s addiction.

Side effects: secondary effects of using a substance; these are usually undesirable.

Societal denial: society’s denial of the historic value of drug-induced pleasure.

Steroids: organic compounds designed to act like hormones to reduce inflammation.

Stimulants: a substance that acts on the central nervous system to produce alertness, wakefulness, and excitation.

Sublingual: drugs that enter the blood through the membranes under the tongue.

Substance abuse: also known as drug abuse, this is a patterned used of drugs in which the user consumes the substances in amounts or methods that are harmful to themselves and others.

Substance dependence: occurs when someone develops a need to repeat their drug use, which results in withdrawal when they try to stop or quit using such drug.

Substance use disorders: a substance use disorder (SUD) is a complex medical condition characterized by an uncontrolled use of a substance (prescription or illegal) despite harmful consequences.

Synthetic: anything that’s not natural occurring.


Talc: a common (potentially 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: when patients continue with their harmful behaviors because they fear withdrawal symptoms.

Tolerance: occurs when someone needs to increase their use of a substance to have the same effect.

Toxicity: a degree to which a chemical substance can damage or poison an organism.

Tranquilizers: a type of drug that helps relieve symptoms of severe psychosis.

Trigger: anything that results in psychological or physical relapse.


Urges: powerful desires that can be suppressed by willpower.

Urge-peak: a sudden, unpredictable increase in cravings, which usually involve temporary mental unawareness.


Withdrawal: the abrupt decrease in someones removal of their regular dose of a psychoactive substance.

Withdrawal symptoms: the physical and emotional symptoms that occur after someone abruptly stops taking a psychoactive substance.

Withdrawal syndrome: the combined reactions or behaviors that result from stopping substance use. Also known as discontinuation symptoms, since it occurs after discontinuing or reducing the dosage of certain types of medications and substances.

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