Drug and Alcohol Glossary

When folks begin to educate themselves about their alcohol and drug problems, it can be confusing. That’s because the treatment industry uses a lot of unfamiliar terms. Some of the terminology is very clinical, and some of the terms are so nuanced that it’s hard to distinguish their meaning. If you don’t know the right “language” it can prevent you from getting the information you need.

This post defines most of the basic terms:

Abstinence: A period of not using a particular drug or alcohol.

ACOA: This is shorthand referring to a support group for Adult Children of Alcoholics.

Addiction: A repeated activity that causes hard to yourself or others.

Age at Onset: The age when a person’s addictive behavior began. This is normally an important part in an addiction assessment.

Analgesic: Medication designed to treat pain.

AOD: Short for Alcohol and Other Drugs

Bioavailability: A drug’s ability to enter the body

Quiz test
Test your knowledge with a quiz


Causal Factors: Things that lead to a drug or alcohol problems like environment or genetics.

COWS (Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale): This is a scale that is used to determine how severe an opiate withdrawal will be (referring to morphine, heroin etc.).

Cross-Dependence: The dependence on one drug is dulled by the use of another drug.

Cross-Tolerance: This is when someone’s tolerance for one drug causes a lessened response to another. For example, a heroin addict, will need more medication (for pain) after surgery to feel better.

DOC: Drug of choice

Disease Model: A theory of alcoholism that defines the addiction as a disease instead of a social, moral or psychological issue.

DSM-IV: This is the handbook that is used to diagnose a mental disorder.

Dysphoria: The opposite of feeling good.

Enabling: The reactions or behaviors of family members, friends or co-workers that shield the addict from the harmful consequences of their alcohol and/or drug use.

Harm Reduction: This is a therapy that reduces the behavior instead of stopping it (similar to “cutting back”).

Intervention: Helping an addict who is in denial as a result of their addiction. The goal is for the person to recognize their need for help and then enter treatment.

Mono Therapy. This is a therapy using one drug.

Off-Label-Use: A doctor-approved use of a drug for uses other than is listed on the label.

Polysubstance Abuse: Using more than one substance at a time.

(PAWS) Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms: Withdrawal symptoms after the initial (really bad) withdrawal.

Psychoactive Drug: This is a mind and behavior altering type of drug.

Recidivism: A fancy word for relapse.

Recovery: A voluntarily maintained lifestyle characterized by sobriety, personal health, and responsibility.

Substance Use: Taking alcohol or a mind-altering drug, for a clearly defined beneficial purpose.

Remission: A symptom-free period.

Sobriety: Abstinence from alcohol and all other non-prescribed drugs.

Substance Misuse: Inappropriate use of any substance, such as alcohol, a street drug or misuse of a prescription or over the counter drug.

Titration: A fancy word for tapering-off, or gradual adjustment to the amount of a drug.

Treatment: Education, counseling, structured programs and recovery groups designed to overcome alcohol and drug abuse and halt the addiction

If you want to learn a little more about some individual drugs and take some easy quizzes click here.

If you want to listen to some educational drug and alcohol podcasts click here.

Our 800RecoveryHub site offers free and confidential help

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