Quick Glossary Guide to Addiction Treatment Terms

Please note: This glossary relates specifically to the vernacular discussions presented on this site and may differ from the interpretation of words and phrases as defined by advanced diagnostic criteria, common dictionaries and other publications.


Compulsive, repetitive engagements in a harmful, ongoing activity that provides temporary value to the user. The user finds it extremely difficult to stop or reduce the engagements.


Excessive usage that causes some form of harm. A broader concept than addiction, it occurs whenever a person over-indulges, but the abuser may, or may not, be addicted to the substance or activity. Persistent abuse is often a precursor to, or indicative of, addiction.


A natural stimulant normally produced by the body during emotions like fear, excitement, anger, but can also be produced artificially. Production by the body can also be catalysed by drugs. It places the body on alert and promotes extra effort and performance.

Adult children

Adolescents and adults who grow up in dysfunctional families (where the parenting skills are weakened by abuse) and who are adversely affected by it. Read more about adult children of alcoholics here.


An optional service hosted by treatment centres to assist patients with ongoing advice and support on a voluntary-patient basis after they had completed a rehabilitation program. Also personal care provided at home by someone close to the addict.

Alcohol, amphetamines, cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, LSD, opioids, prescription drugs

Substances which are addictive and exceptionally harmful. These and other drugs are explained in more detail on other pages of this site. Please browse our aftercare here for more information.

Blood poisoning

Any infection of the blood. Frequently acquired through the use of needles during injection of drugs. Infections are caused by dirty needles or sharing of needles with infected people. Also caused by damaging the skin or picking at wounds during self-harming behaviour.


Anybody closely associated with an abuser and who assists them by providing food, medication, mobility or other forms of personal assistance.


Caregivers who are affected by the consequences of an active abuser’s behaviour, are codependents. Whilst the abuser is directly dependent on an addictive activity, a codependent is not directly dependent on it, but is indirectly controlled or affected by it. A codependent lacks the will or resources to stop the abuse and continues to live with it, even to the extent of unwillingly serving or protecting the abuser, despite being adversely affected. Read more about codependent relationships here.

Cold turkey

A slang term for detoxification without medication. The addict goes through the withdrawal phase that follows when they stop taking a drug, without taking medication to alleviate the unpleasant withdrawals. A difficult procedure, but possible, although mostly only effective for a limited period, as it does not emotionally prepare an addict for long term sobriety.


The phase that follows immediately after the exhilaration (or “high”) has faded. It is the opposite of the “reward” felt during intoxication. This slump, or backlash, tempts an abuser to repeat the addictive act, so they can feel good again.

Contagious disease

Serious contagious diseases are picked up through sharing injection needles with others. Random sex sought by sex addicts or reckless sex during intoxication also transmits many contagious diseases.

Conversation mapping

A practical conversation that gives the addict and therapist opportunity to get to know one another, to inform and exchange views. After the conversation a therapeutic process can be formulated, based on an analysis of the knowledge gained from the conversation. Addicts can start with a partly mapped introductory course while a trusting relationship and more insight develops to enable fine-tuning of the therapy.


Results when the body loses more fluid than it takes in. Some drugs are diuretics (they stimulate fluid expulsion). Many drugs cause vomiting and diarrhea as side effects, which also drain fluid from the body. Drugs that energise, cause excessive perspiration. Dehydration can lead to coma and death.


A state of mental confusion with hallucinations and physical turmoil. Best known is delirium tremens, a severe drug withdrawal symptom.


Dependency differs from addiction. Some people must take prescription drugs for illness – they depend on it to treat the illness, but are not necessarily addicted to it. Some people acquire dependency as a forerunner of addiction. It is difficult to distinguish between abuse, dependency and addiction, as they overlap and so the words are used interchangeably.


Complete abstinence from the use of harmful addictive substances. A former addict, who has forsaken all harmful drug usage, will be described as “drug-free”.


A common name for substances that affect the brain and central nervous system. Alcohol, many medicines, tobacco, caffeine, are all drugs, just like marijuana and other illicit drugs. In street talk, the word drugs often indicates only illicit drugs, but on this site it refers to all drugs which are commonly abused and cause severely harmful addiction. Please browse this site for more about the various types of addictive drugs.


Perception of something that does not exist outside the mind. Seeing, hearing, smelling or feeling things that are figments of the imagination, but seem real. (Includes illusions of overly vivid sounds, sights, feeling, taste, smell and harmony.)


When drugs are forced into the body tissue with a syringe or needle. Can be into the skin (intradermal), underneath the skin (subcutaneous), into a muscle (intramuscular) or into a vein (intravenously).


A meeting usually initiated by the family of the addict / alcoholic living in denial to try help them in a crisis to seek third party help from a professional. More about interventions here.

Lifestyle conversation

A conversation where the focus is on gaining knowledge and understanding about a person’s environment, habits, motivation, interests and activities, with the aim of determining the influence it has on them and possible adjustments to their lifestyle to improve their quality of lfe.

Motivational conversation

A short initial interview which aims to motivate a person to regain positivity about themselves and to attend treatment. The focus is on the restoration of personal values and understanding the importance of self-preservation.

Outpatient treatment

Treatment for patients who are not resident in a rehabilitation facility, but travel to and from the facility to attend therapy sessions in accordance with an agreed schedule. The treatment schedule can be adapted to suit an individual patient’s circumstances and resources.


Overdosing is the taking of too much of one drug (or a combination of drugs) in one dosage, or more than one dosage within a short time period. It overpowers the body and mind and causes serious, life threatening conditions.


Large scale prevention of addiction is controlled by two basic principles: First, by preventing availability and, secondly, dampening the demand by providing information about it. The only remaining option, for individuals, is to help victims to recover and to empower them to prevent relapses.

Structured relapse prevention

A type of therapy that teaches addicts the coping skills to identify and deal effectively with daily incidents and risk situations that trigger emotional responses that can lead to relapses.

Substance purity

The proportion of the active substance in relation to the rest of the material which forms the physical mass of a drug. (Also called substance concentration.) Drugs are contaminated with bulking materials and other drugs. It is difficult for a layman to determine the purity of a drug bought on the street..


The body and mind builds up a “resistance” against the immediate, rewarding effects of addictive drugs and activities. This tolerance develops over a period of time. The level of tolerance increases progressively. Addicts must take more and more of the drug to get the same euphoric effect that they had felt on previous occasions. Addictive behaviour (without substance abuse) also promotes a mental “need” for more intense or more frequent engagement in the activity.


There are two main types of recovery treatment: Firstly, medical treatment for detoxification, including medication for overcoming withdrawals and rebuilding the body’s reserves, plus treatment for physical defects (if any). Secondly, therapeutic treatment employing modern procedures, designed to heal the underlying emotional defects and to instil defensive skills for more effective and lasting results.


The physical and psychological discomfort that occurs when an addict stops taking a drug or stops practising an addictive act. Common physical symptoms are; nausea, tremors, diarrhea, rapid pulse, tight chest, etc. Common psychological withdrawals are anxiety, depression, insomnia, mood swings, etc.