Glossary of Addiction Terms

Term Definition
Abstinence Abstaining from substance use, including that of drugs and alcohol. There are six main types of abstinence including:

  • Continuous abstinence
  • Essentially abstinen
  • Minimal abstinence
  • Point-in-time abstinence
  • Complete abstinence
  • Involuntary abstinence
Addiction A chronic, primary, and relapsing disease characterised by incessant drug seeking and compulsive drug-taking behaviours, despite the dangers and consequences. Current accepted terms for those who suffer from addiction are ‘those struggling with addiction’ or ‘a person struggling with addiction’
Alcohol Alcohol (ethanol or ethyl alcohol) is a physically addictive sedative-hypnotic drug that slows down the central nervous system. In small amounts it causes people to feel disinhibited, and overdose can cause amnesia and unconsciousness.
Alcohol dependence Also known as alcohol addiction, alcohol dependence is the most serious case of high-risk drinking and is characterised by an intense and uncontrollable urge to drink. When someone is dependent on alcohol, they may feel like they’re unable to cope or manage without it. This stage of high-risk drinking is the most difficult to break out of but is still treatable.
Amphetamine Stimulant drugs that speed up messages travelling between the brain and the body, increasing levels of activity in the central nervous system (CNS). Either taken recreationally or in the treatment of disorders such as ADHD and narcolepsy.
Agonist A chemical substance that latches onto and activates specific cell receptors, provoking a biological response. Common examples of opioid receptor agonists include oxycodone, heroin, morphine, and fentanyl.
Antagonist A chemical substance that latches onto and blocks the activation of specific cell receptors, preventing a biological response from taking place. Examples include naloxone and buprenorphine.
Alcohol-use disorder (AUD) AUD, also known as alcohol addiction or alcoholism, is a medical condition characterised by an inability to stop drinking alcohol, coupled with excessive and compulsive drinking behaviours. Despite the dangers, long-term health consequences, and impact on family and relationships, those with alcohol-use disorder will find it very difficult to stop.
Acute care Immediate and short-term medical care, lasting anywhere up to 31 days in treatment.  Seeing substance abuse through the lens of chronic illness, successful recovery may require longer treatment.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) An international group set up in 1935 to help those with alcohol-use disorder. A professional, not-for-profit organisation that offers self-help to all ages with regular meetings via the 12-step programme.
Aftercare A plan that is created to help support and care for an individual during the early stages of recovery to prevent relapse and keep them on track towards sobriety. An aftercare plan might include resources to help the individual cope with triggers as well as interventions and tools they can use to overcome cravings.
Admissions The first stage of the treatment process within a treatment facility. During the admissions phase, individuals will be screened, taken on a tour of the facility, and given more information on what the programme entails. It’s also a chance for the individual and their family to ask questions and better understand the treatment options available.
Binge Drinking Excessive drinking behaviours that alter blood alcohol levels. For women, binge drinking is defined as four or more standard drinks in one day. For men, binge drinking is defined as five or more standard drinks in one day.
Benzodiazepines A category of psychoactive drugs that produce mild tranquilising and sedative effects. Commonly used in the treatment of anxiety, convulsions, and withdrawal. Common examples of benzodiazepines include Xanax and Valium. Benzodiazepines are addictive.
Biological model of addiction A model that focuses on the causes of addiction as related to biological and genetic environments, highlighting that addiction is predetermined by specific factors.
Barbiturate A type of medication and category of compounds that act as depressants in the central nervous system (CNS), producing sedative side effects. Often prescribed as anticonvulsants, hypnotics, and anxiolytics.
Cannabis Cannabis is a potent psychoactive drug that produces feelings of happiness and pleasure. Traditionally smoked, it’s also available in edible form and its concentrated extract can be put into vape cartridges. Cannabis can be addictive.
Continuum of care A system of care that continually tracks and guides a person through a range of healthcare services related to their needs. A general continuum of care includes prevention, early intervention, treatment, aftercare, and recovery support.
Cocaine Cocaine is an addictive stimulant drug derived from the coca plant, usually rubbed into the gums or snorted as a white powder. Cocaine can make people feel overly excited, confident, and sociable.
Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) CBT is a type of psychotherapy and talk therapy that challenges negative thought patterns or cycles, particularly about the self or the world around you. Commonly used in the treatment of mood disorders like anxiety and depression.
Comorbidity The prevalence of two or more conditions or illnesses in the same person, often referred to as co-occurring disorders and dual diagnosis. Comorbidity describes all the conditions the patient might have that aren’t related to the primary condition of interest.
Compulsive behaviours An insatiable and repetitive urge to take drugs and/or alcohol, often followed by impulsive behaviours. Though drug users and alcohol abusers may know of the consequences and effects of their actions, compulsive behaviours will drive them to continue abusing drugs and alcohol.
Co-occurring disorders When one person has a co-existing mental health condition on top of a substance use disorder. Also referred to as comorbidity or dual diagnosis. These disorders often affect a similar area of the brain, though treatment will need to be drawn up separately to target both conditions.
Counsellor Counsellors empathise with clients with the ultimate goal of helping them overcome their problems and bring about positive change in their lives. They don’t explicitly tell their clients what to do – they allow people to understand themselves better and come to their own conclusions.
Craving A strong, psychological desire and urge to consume a substance even when you may know the consequences and health effects. Often a symptom of addiction, especially once the brain gets accustomed to a substance and the symptoms it produces.
Cross-tolerance A term that refers to a drug’s ability to prevent the withdrawal symptoms of physical dependence on another drug. This often happens between drugs with similar effects and functions; for example, those that act on the same cell receptor.
Delirium Tremens A sudden and intense psychological withdrawal in chronic alcohol addiction, involving tremors, anxiety, hallucinations, and a sense of disorientation. Delirium Tremens usually occur after heavy drinking, usually in those who suffer from alcohol use disorder.
Dependence Physical reliance on drugs and/or alcohol, often being the main trigger behind withdrawal once the user stops drinking or taking drugs. Those who have developed a physical dependence on drugs/alcohol will find that their body has adapted and requires a heavier dosage to achieve the same effect.
Depressant A depressant is a substance that reduces stimulation and levels of neurotransmitters in the central nervous system (CNS), creating feelings of relaxation and drowsiness. Common depressants include alcohol and benzodiazepines.
Detox  A process in which all traces of drugs and/or alcohol are removed from the system. A medical detox is always done under the supervision of doctors and medical staff and often starts the process of withdrawal simultaneously.
Detox medication Medication that is used during medical detox to help relieve withdrawal symptoms and ease discomfort. The most common types of detox medication include:

  • Benzodiazepines
  • Antidepressant drugs
  • Agonists of opioids
  • Analgesic alternatives to opioids
  • Opioid antagonists
  • Incomplete antagonists and agonists
Dialectical-behaviour therapy Evidence-based talk therapy and psychotherapy based on cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) used for the treatment of mental health conditions. DBT can help patients work through intense emotions, manage their feelings, and make positive life changes.
Disease model of addiction A model that states that addicted people have impaired ability to choose not to use substances due to physical changes in the brain, and classify addiction as a “chronic relapsing condition.”
Dopamine Known as our “feel good chemical.” Dopamine is a neurotransmitter released when we engage in pleasurable activities such as socialising and eating. Substance use causes massive amounts of dopamine release, contributing to their addictive properties.
Drug A drug is anything that changes our physiology or psychology. Substances like alcohol, heroin, and benzodiazepines fall under this category, as do commonly used medicines such as paracetamol.
Drug dependence More commonly referred to as substance use disorder or drug addiction, drug dependence is the state of needing one or more drugs to function properly throughout the day. In some cases, drug dependence does not automatically mean an addiction. Dependence on a drug can also develop as a response to medication.
Drug abuse Drug abuse is when an individual uses drugs recreationally or inappropriately for an extended period of time. Drug abuse can negatively impact a person’s mental, physical, and psychological well being, as well as cause a dependency to develop. Drug abuse can lead to addiction.
Drug classes A set of drugs, medications, or compounds that work similarly and have a similar function. Drug classification is used to help people take drugs safely, as it outlines the risks and the types of drugs that can and can’t be switched to when using a certain medication.
Dual diagnosis Those diagnosed with dual diagnosis have both a mental health disorder and a substance use problem. Mental health disorders and problematic drug and/or alcohol problems usually occur together.
Early recovery The first year of remission from drug and/or alcohol abuse. Clients in early recovery may be prone to triggers and cravings, in which case they will have the option of returning to a clinic for aftercare and support.
Ecstasy Ecstasy, also known by the street name ‘Molly’, is a synthetic drug that produces a stimulant effect, causing high levels of neurotransmitter release in the central nervous system (CNS). Ecstasy can cause feelings of pleasure and happiness. Amphetamines including ecstasy are addictive.
Fentanyl A powerful synthetic opioid drug that produces feelings of pleasure and happiness, activating the reward centre of the brain. Fentanyl is often used as a medical prescription to relieve intense pain in cases of cancer, injury, or after an operation. It is 50-100 times more potent than morphine.
Foetal alcohol syndrome Also known as FASD, foetal alcohol syndrome is an irreversible symptom produced in children when they have been exposed to alcohol in the womb for extended periods of time, often causing mental and physical birth defects.
Full sustained remission One full year of recovery from a substance use or alcohol use disorder in an individual who once met the criteria for drug abuse/alcohol dependency.
Gateway hypothesis A hypothesis that concludes that the use of one drug can increase the risk of using more potent drugs. Marijuana and tobacco are often categorised as ‘gateway drugs’ because they are shown to increase the chances of someone using other, more potent drugs.
Gambling addiction Also known as compulsive gambling, gambling addiction is a disorder characterised by an incessant urge to gamble despite the adverse consequences. When someone gambles, they are willing to bet or risk losing something of value in the hope of getting something even better (often of higher value) in return.
Group therapy One or more therapists work with clients in a controlled environment where people share a goal and have similar life experience. People can learn from other people within group therapy and also boost their self-esteem by helping others.
Hallucinogen A group of psychoactive drugs that change the way someone perceives things, often producing hallucinations and resulting in a distorted sense of reality. Common examples of hallucinogenic drugs include LSD, DMT, and psilocybin mushrooms.
Heroin A psychoactive opioid drug made from the poppy plant that produces feelings of euphoria and drowsiness. Side effects can include itching, dry mouth, nausea, delayed motor responses, and a lack of mental function. Heroin is highly addictive.
Holistic therapies A healthcare approach originating from Ancient Greece that focuses on treating the ‘whole person’ rather than a set of specific symptoms. Holistic therapies are used to improve spiritual, mental, and physical well-being and include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Equine therapy
  • Sports therapy
  • Art therapy
  • Yoga
  • Mindfulness
  • Meditation
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Herbal remedies
  • Aromatherapy
Individual therapy Also known as one-to-one therapy, this takes place with just a therapist and a client. It allows for rapport to be built up, and the client to work through deeply personal issues in privacy.
Inhalant A substance that produces a chemical vapour that, when inhaled, causes a mind-altering and psychoactive effect to take place. There are four different types of inhalants, including: volatile solvents, aerosols, gases, and nitrites.
In-patient treatment Inpatient or residential rehab programmes are often recommended in cases of severe addiction or when other treatment options have not been successful. In-patient treatment is often intensive with around-the-clock care and support.
Intensive outpatient treatment A time-limited treatment approach that requires regular visits to a clinic to overcome an alcohol or drug addiction. It is one step below partial hospitalisation and is often considered in cases where the patient needs to maintain a family/work-life balance alongside recovery.
Intervention An intervention occurs when family members and/or friends confront someone who is using drugs and/or alcohol excessively in the hopes to get them to seek treatment, usually at a dedicated clinic or facility.
Injection drug use (IDU) A method of taking drugs that involves injecting a substance into the bloodstream via a hypodermic needle that pierces through the skin. Injection drug use is associated with a lot of risks, including the transmission of sexual diseases and fatal overdoses.
Levels of care A system that categorises different levels of care ranging from mild and moderate to intensive. The levels of care in addiction often include intensive outpatient, in-patient,
Long term recovery A person is considered to be in long-term recovery once they achieved five or more years of complete remission from drugs and/or alcohol. During this stage, the damage that the drug use has caused is starting to be healed and foundations for a new life are underway.
Mandated treatment Drug and/or alcohol treatment that is forcibly set forward by the drug court as a condition for release, probation, or parole.
Medication-assisted treatment Also known as MAT, medication-assisted treatment is an approach that combines therapy with medication to help people overcome their substance use addictions, particularly during withdrawal.
Methamphetamines Known as meth, methamphetamine is a synthetic stimulant drug that produces feelings of euphoria and happiness, activating the reward centre of the brain. Side effects include increased heart rate, nausea, rapid heartbeat, and increased energy. Crystal Meth is the crystal form of methamphetamine.
Morphine An analgesic opioid made from poppy plants that produces feelings of pleasure and aids in pain relief. This is because morphine activates the centre of the brain responsible for pain perception. Morphine is often prescribed to relieve intense pain from cancer, traumatic injuries, and after serious accidents.
Motivational interviewing A counselling and therapeutic approach that is focused on helping an individual find the motivation and inspiration to make positive changes in their lives. In the case of drug or alcohol use disorder, motivational interviewing will be geared towards helping an individual overcome their addiction and take steps towards a life of sobriety.
Naloxone An opioid antagonist that reverses an opioid overdose by blocking the effects of opioids . This is done by attaching them to opioid receptors in the brain.
Naltrexone A prescription medication used in the treatment of alcohol use disorder and opioid dependence. Naltrexone reduces the amount of cravings a patient experiences and blocks the effects of opioids and alcohol.
Narcotic Originally referring to drugs and compounds that have a sedative effect (heroin and morphine, for example) but is now a term that is mostly used to define an illegal drug or substance.
Natural recovery Also known as self-managed recovery, natural recovery is an approach to overcoming drug and/or alcohol addiction that is achieved without the help of professional services, hospitalisation, or medical treatment.
Neuroplasticity The brain’s ability to change and adapt and change its physical structure according to its environment. Addiction can cause physical alterations in the brain that impair our decision making. However, prolonged recovery can restore this damage.
Opiate A substance that is made from the poppy plant and derived from opium. Common examples of opiates include morphine, heroin, and codeine. Opiates are highly addictive.
Opioid A category of synthetic substances that function as opioid receptors, relieving pain and producing sedative effects. Commonly used pain-relief treatment for cancers, serious illnesses, and accidents. Opioids are synthetic opiates and carry strong abuse potential. See opiate/opioid addiction.
Overdose An overdose occurs when an individual has a toxic amount of drugs or alcohol in their system. In some cases, overdose can result in death or cause serious injury and harm. If an overdose is intentional or an individual has consumed too much of something on purpose, it is referred to as ‘deliberate overdose.’
Over-the-counter medications (OTC) Medications and substances available at a pharmacy or shop without the need for a prescription or approval from a doctor. Common OTC medications include cough syrup, nasal saline spray, and paracetamol.
Paradoxical drug effect Side effects that are completely different (paradoxical) to what is normally expected from a specific drug; for example, feeling pain from pain relief medication or tiredness from a stimulant drug.
Peer support group Groups of people that support and engage with one another, taking part in group therapy and activities that educate them on recovery and addiction. Peer support groups are designed to aid healing and offer a sense of connection to others in a similar situation, providing hope and relief. Popular peer support groups include Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Smart Recovery.
Pink cloud An intense feeling of euphoria, optimism, and happiness that is sometimes felt by those in the early stages of recovery from substance abuse.
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome Commonly known as PAWS, these are the lingering effects of withdrawal that can occur from a number of months following cessation of a substance as the brain adjusts to functioning without its function being impaired.
Potency The concentration level of a psychoactive compound or ingredient in a drug. The more potent a drug is, the more extreme side effects it will produce.
Prescription drug misuse When someone uses medication for recreational purposes, without approval from a doctor or without a prescription. This term is also commonly referred to as ‘prescription drug abuse,’ and, ‘non-medically used psychoactive substance’. Abuse of medications can lead to prescription drug addiction.
Private rehab Private rehab means that it’s not state funded – either the client or someone they’re associated with will pay for treatment.
Process addiction Also known as a behavioural addiction, this is a compulsive behaviour that someone repeatedly engages in despite knowing that it harms them. Examples are gambling, pornography, and shopping.
Psychodynamic psychotherapy A type of talk therapy that aims to help patients better understand their psyche and internal processes, as well as what can be done to help resolve internal problems and conflicts.
Quasi-residential Quasi-residential refers to a rehab facility that incorporates a full treatment programme into an individual’s recovery plan, but the individual resides in a sober living house in between the programme’s operating hours.
Recovery The process through which someone experiences improved mental, physical, and psychological improvement in their well-being after having stopped taking drugs and/or alcohol.
Recovery coach Recovery coaches offer support for people seeking recovery from substance, alcohol, or other harmful compulsive behaviours. They work with people at any stage of their journey and can help set goals, access treatment, and provide advice.
Recovery residences Also known as sober houses, recovery residences are drug and alcohol free zones that people can live in while they are recovering. They are most often used in the transition from treatment to ‘normal life’ and during withdrawal.
Relapse A return to drug and/or alcohol use, particularly during stages of remission and early recovery. Relapse happens most frequently in the 90 days after treatment and intervention.
Relapse prevention (RP) A skills and cognitive-based approach to treatment that focuses on getting patients and clinicians to identify situations that would put them at greater risk of returning to drug and/or alcohol use. These can be internal situations (a thought or a memory) or external situations (being around a crowd of people who take drugs). Relapse prevention or aftercare programmes are typically provided as part of residential treatment programmes.
Remission Remission occurs when a person who once had a drug and/or alcohol addiction has had no symptoms and has not returned to their habit for five years or more.
Residential rehab Residential rehab involves clients staying for a set period of time in a centre. It allows people to fully immerse themselves in recovery and focus on their wellness in a controlled environment without exposure to familiar environmental triggers. Our residential rehab centre is based in Bournemouth, Dorset.
Rehabilitation The process of helping an individual overcome drug addiction (drug rehabilitation) or alcohol addiction (alcohol rehabilitation) and leading a fulfilling life with the highest level of function, independence, and quality possible. Though rehabilitation cannot reverse the damage done by drugs or alcohol, it can help the individual build a new life and improve their mental and physical health.
Screening A health assessment done by medical professionals and nurses to determine whether or not there are harmful and toxic substances (for example; drugs and alcohol) in the body. Assessments like these are often carried out as a self-report or biological assay (collecting urine or blood samples).
Sober transportation A transportation programme either to or from a treatment centre. This will be staffed by trained professionals and are designed to keep clients safe during this period of transition. We provide sober transportation from most areas of the UK to our treatment centre.
Sobriety A state of being completely sober from alcohol – in other words, not drinking anything. People who have abused alcohol previously are strongly advised to lead a life of sobriety as one drink can be enough to push them back into addiction.
Support groups Support groups are gatherings of people – usually battling similar problems, addictions, or conditions  – who share their experiences with one another and offer encouragement and support. Support groups offer a safe space to open up and get constructive and practical advice, as well as learn from others.
Stigma Discrimination against a particular group of people based on perceived social characteristics that make them ‘different’ and ‘alien’ to other people in society.
Stimulant A psychoactive substance that increases the level of activity in the brain and neurotransmitters in the central nervous system (CNT). Stimulants make the user feel an increased sense of energy, alertness, and attention to detail. Common stimulants include cocaine, Amphetamines, and nicotine.
Substance abuse A diagnostic label and term for the problems that arise as a result of excessive drug use. Ongoing substance use that impacts work, school, family, friendships, and finances.
Sustained remission When someone who once had alcohol and/or substance use disorder no longer fits the criteria for addiction one year later. In sustained remission, the person has achieved long-term recovery and is starting to build foundations for a new life.
Taper A practise used in pharmacotherapy in which a dose of medication is lowered in gradual stages over many days, weeks, or even months to prevent withdrawal and help the patient adjust.
Therapist An umbrella term referring to any professional trained to deliver treatment and rehabilitation. It is often used for psychologists, but can include a huge range of other professions such as counsellors, life coaches, and others.
Therapeutic duty Many treatment centres will expect clients to help out with domestic duties such as cleaning. This helps to build personal responsibility, community, and camaraderie.
Tolerance A neurobiological response in which the body adapts and gets used to a specific drug or substance, leading to a reduced reaction from the user. Individuals who have increased tolerance to a substance often have to take higher dosages to achieve the same effect.
Twelve-steps An approach to treatment based on the twelve steps created by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) that aims to motivate and inspire patients to give up drugs and alcohol and turn to a higher power for full recovery.
Withdrawal Psychological and physical side effects that develop as a result of quitting a drug cold turkey or reducing the number of drugs and/or alcohol in a short space of time. Withdrawal symptoms can range from moderate to severe and are more common in individuals who have suffered from chronic alcohol and/or substance abuse.
Withdrawal symptoms The symptoms that accompany withdrawal (ie., the stage at which all traces of drugs and alcohol are removed from the body during medical detox). Withdrawal symptoms are often uncomfortable and can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Appetite changes
  • Insomnia
  • Aches and pains
  • Chills and tremors
  • Shakiness and restlessness
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Headaches and migraines
Wrap-around services Non-clinical services that promote engagement and retention among patients in treatment and aftercare. These services can be used to help patients with problems relating to transport, finances, childcare, and housing.
Xanax Xanax is a benzodiazepine that is often used to treat anxiety, depression, and panic disorders, but is also commonly misused as a street drug.
Z-Drugs Also known as ‘nonbenzodiazepines’ Z-drugs are a category of psychoactive drugs that have a sedative and relaxing effect. They are commonly prescribed to treat sleep disorders such as insomnia and include zopiclone and zolpidem.

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