Addiction Language

Discover addiction terms and how to use them in our addiction language database.

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 stigmatizing slang term for an individual with an addictive disorder

Addiction Assessment: A way to determine the prevalence of chemical dependency in a client or the extent of one’s addiction (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 behavior 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 behavioral stimulant; also known as pep pills

Analgesic: Medication designed to treat pain

Antagonist: A substance that can nullify the effects of another substance (a drug that does not elicit a response)

AOD: Stands for (Alcohol and Other Drugs)

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 person’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 behavior one repeats involuntarily that can be harmful (e.g., addiction)

Conditioning: A behavioral 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 realize his or her addiction or to recognize 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 removing a toxic substance (e.g. a drug) from the body

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 health condition accompanied by addiction 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 addiction (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 behavior 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: A full opioid agonist

Hydrocodone: An effective narcotic analgesic first developed as a cough medication

IInduction: Beginning phase of buprenorphine treatment

Inflation: An addiction behavior’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 used for medical reasons (e.g. alcohol, caffeine, carbohydrates, nicotine, etc.)


Maintenance: Stabilization 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 behavior 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 behavior 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 tranquilizers

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 behavior-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 behavior


Rapid Detox: Anesthesia-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 behavior also known as a 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 behaviors 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 or alcohol

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

Synergism: The greater effect that results when one takes more than one drug simultaneously

Synthetic: Not naturally occurring


Talc: Dangerous substance used in manufacturing pharmaceuticals

Therapeutic Community: A setting where people with similar issues can meet to support each other in recovery

Therapeutic Dependence: Patients tendency to demonstrate drug-seeking behaviors 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 poisonousness

Tranquilizers: 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 realizing 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 behaviors 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