A Guide to Common Addiction Terms

Written by: Kim Vytell
Last Updated: Jul 26, 2023

When first exploring treatment options, many find themselves overwhelmed by addiction terms they do not understand. Many common recovery and addiction terms seem intuitive to those of us who already know them; however those outside of the recovery community will not find the vernacular so accessible.

These may include terms relating to the specifics of substance use disorder or the details of working a drug and alcohol addiction recovery program. Many important addiction recovery terms, such as those describing various levels of treatment, may also prove initially confusing.

To help the newcomer develop a better understanding of recovery and what it means, we have compiled a list of common addiction treatment and recovery terms below. We have further divided this addiction glossary into several sections. These include addiction-related terms and phrases, common recovery programs and family programs, and substance abuse treatment-specific terminology.

We also include a list of common addiction recovery terms not necessarily specific to one particular section. This should help you to navigate the page more easily to find the common recovery and addiction terms for which you require a definition.

Avenues Recovery, leaders in addiction rehabilitation, have compiled the following list of addiction recovery terms. We hope this addiction glossary proves helpful to those who need it.

Addiction Terms

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Below you’ll find a brief explanation to many common addiction terms:

Substance Use Disorder

Dependence on mind-altering addictive substances such as prescription drugs and alcohol. The term “substance use disorder” attempts to define the condition typically known as addiction or alcoholism without provoking the stigma often associated with drug and alcohol addiction.

Polydrug User

A person who suffers from substance dependency but does not have only one drug of choice.

Functional Alcoholic/Addict

Someone who deals with chemical dependency but hides it well enough that many fail to recognize the signs of their condition.


Period of discomfort suffered when a chronic substance user begins to sober up after a heavy period of use.

Delirium Tremens

Often known as the DTs, delirium tremens is a side effect of alcohol withdrawal. People in recovery may experience withdrawal symptoms that include confusion, sweating, irregular heart rate, high body temperature, shaking, and even seizures.

Co-Occurring Disorder

A condition where a person who experiences a mood disorder or mental illness also suffers from substance use disorder. Co-occurring disorders are also called dual diagnosis.


When substance users who suffer from chronic pain or mental illness use their prescription drug of choice to lessen the symptoms associated with such conditions.


A dysfunctional relationship in which one person relies on another to an unhealthy extent. This often leads to enabling when the other party suffers from substance use disorder.


Making it easier for a chemical dependent to use their substance of choice, whether through direct means or indirectly by lessening the consequences of their using.


Recurrence of addictive behavior after a period of sobriety.


A one-time occurrence of substance use after a period of sobriety. Still considered a relapse, but sometimes differentiated when the slip does not result in full onset of the addictive cycle.

Behavioral Addiction

A behavioral health disorder characterized by over-dependence on the thrill received from an activity such as shopping, gambling, eating, or sex. Sometimes treated as a co-occurring disorder of substance dependency.

Recovery Programs

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Below you’ll find a list of some of the most common recovery programs:

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Alcoholics Anonymous [1] caters to people dealing with alcohol dependence and is one of the longest-running alcoholism treatment recovery programs in existence. Members follow an action-based program based around the Twelve Steps [2], a series of suggestions that take them on a journey of self-discovery and redemption.

Narcotics Anonymous (NA)

Narcotics Anonymous [3] uses its own literature but follows roughly the same 12-Step model as Alcoholics Anonymous. The fellowship refer to themselves as addicts rather than alcoholics; however, users of all substances such as prescription drugs, club drugs or recreational drugs and other psychoactive substances may seek membership in either program.

SMART Recovery

A secular program using principles inspired by cognitive behavioral therapy. Unlike AA or NA, SMART Recovery [4] relies on scientific inquiry rather than tradition. The program may therefore adapt over time to reflect ongoing discoveries in the field of addiction medicine.

Refuge Recovery

A Buddhist-inspired program of recovery. Refuge Recovery [5] meetings are split between meditation, reading on the principles of Buddhism, and sharing about personal experiences.

Celebrate Recovery

Faith-based program for recovering Christians. Celebrate Recovery [6] uses a step-based model that incorporates scriptural teachings into the recovery process.

Family Programs

Avenues Recovery explains family programs and addiction terms

Below you’ll find a list of some of the most common family programs for recovery:


Program that uses the same Twelve Steps as AA, but applies them to codependent and enabling behaviors. Al-Anon [7] members learn to reclaim their own life by focusing on themselves, building on their strengths, and asking for and accepting help such as recovery coaching.


A fellowship group that uses the same 12-step model as Al-Anon. Nar-Anon [8] is a branch of NA that focuses primarily on the family members and friends of those who struggle with substances other than alcohol.

Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA)

Another fellowship that uses the Twelve Steps, this caters to adult children affected by a parent’s alcohol abuse. While Al-Anon was made for spouses and caters to all family members, ACA [9] exists primarily for adults who grew up with a substance-using parent, but the group also includes codependents and those who were raised in dysfunctional homes, even those without the presence of drugs or alcohol.

Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA)

Co-Dependents Anonymous [10] uses the Twelve Steps to help those who struggle with codependency. The members of CoDA do not necessarily welcome substance users, but they struggle with many of the same codependent behaviors exhibited by friends and family members in the above programs.

Treatment Terms

Below you’ll find a list of some of the most common treatment terms in recovery:


Clients enter detox to receive medically assisted treatment for withdrawal symptoms and rid the body of the effects of drugs and alcohol. Detoxification in a treatment center is often the first phase of a longer continuum of health care for alcohol or drug abusers.

Inpatient Program

An intensive treatment program that is offered in a treatment facility with a clinical or hospital-like environment. Inpatient treatment programs usually last from one to three months and focus on helping patients achieve medical stability and establish a good foundation for their recovery process.

Residential Treatment

Phase of treatment involving continuous on-site supervision in a treatment facility. Residential treatment facilities provide clients with a more comfortable and home-like environment compared with that of an inpatient program, as clients will be staying there longer, usually for six months or more. Residential treatment is often done as a follow-up to an inpatient treatment program.


Partial hospitalization program. Partial hospitalization offers a very intensive level of care, although clients may attend off-site meetings to supplement in-house services offered by the health care provider. It usually follows residential treatment and precedes outpatient treatment.


Intensive outpatient or outpatient program for people in recovery from alcohol or drug abuse. Clients live outside the treatment facility, often in a sober living home, while attending group meetings and receiving individual therapy. Intensive outpatient entails more services than regular outpatient. Many clients do both programs, allowing them to ease their way out of treatment.

Dual Diagnosis

A practice that provides treatment for people with co-occurring disorders, usually an addiction and a psychiatric disorder. For example, a person addicted to alcohol may suffer from depression. Another may be suffering from both heroin addiction and an eating disorder. Dual Diagnosis, as a program, offers services to overcome both conditions.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

A goal-oriented form of therapy that helps the client to change unhealthy or addictive behaviors and thought processes. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most common forms of behavioral therapy utilized in treatment for substance use and other mental health disorders as well as for relapse prevention.

Holistic Care

Term that describes numerous forms of therapy that treat the recovering drug addict as a whole person. Holistic forms of treatment help clients overcome physical, psychological, and spiritual issues simultaneously.

Faith-Based Program

Often used to describe Christian-based drug and alcohol rehab programs; however, this term could technically refer to any treatment plan that embraces a religious or spiritual approach to recovery.


Broad term referring to the period after a client leaves treatment. Generally refers to services provided to alumni of a treatment program. Also refers to an aftercare plan that a client follows when taking charge of their own recovery after treatment. Assists in relapse prevention.

Sober Living

A home or other community dedicated to people in recovery. Commonly used in reference to halfway houses.


Against medical advice. Sometimes used as a verb, meaning that the client is leaving before their treatment is finished.

Other Recovery Terms

Attain sobriety with Avenues Recovery; learn all the addiction terms to make your journey even smoother

Below you’ll find a list of some of the most common miscellaneous recovery terms:


Someone with recovery experience who helps another person work through a 12-step program. A sponsor also provides recovery coaching as well as emotional and spiritual support to a recovering drug addict. Many programs include some form of sponsorship or mentorship to decrease risk of relapse, including some programs that do not use the Twelve Steps.

Disease Model

Approach to recovery that defines substance use disorder as a health condition affecting both body and mind.


Something that causes cravings to use addictive substances. Triggers vary from person to person and may take the form of a person, place, experience, feeling etc.

Character Defects

Shortcomings either arising from or exacerbating substance use. Many therapeutic communities view substance abuse treatment and recovery as a journey to overcome character defects, rather than simply the cessation of substance use.


Acronym for “hungry, angry, lonely and tired.” Refers to four feelings often regarded as strong triggers.

Geographical Cure

The generally discredited belief that a change in location will relieve cravings and aid in addiction treatment and recovery. May work to lessen drinking and drugging to a certain extent, but rarely produces long-term results among substance abusers.

War Stories

Tales that glorify drinking or drugging. Usually told for the purposes of humor, boasting, or nostalgia. Strongly discouraged in therapeutic communities, especially in meetings or when among those in the early stages of the recovery process.

Thirteenth Step

Slang for the practice of attempting sexual seduction at meetings. Not a real step in alcohol and drug rehab. Traditionally frowned upon, especially when the “Thirteenth Stepper” targets newcomers.

Harm Reduction

Alternative to abstinence-based alcohol and drug rehab programs. Harm reduction involves attempts to cut down on substance use, or to only cease the use of a particularly troubling substance. For instance, a harm reductionist may stop using crystal meth but continue to engage in binge drinking. Not widely embraced by the treatment community.

Spiritual Awakening

Change in outlook that relieves the desire to use. Some report sudden changes that impact their behavioral health and mental health, while others awaken more gradually. Sometimes synonymous with a religious experience, although spiritual awakening is more commonly akin to a simple yet profound change in perspective.

Avenues Recovery Are Here to Support You

If these recovery and addiction terms are confusing, don’t worry. You can recover from addiction without understanding any of them at all, we’re happy to guide you! Contact Avenues Recovery today – you deserve better than a life of addiction!


[1] www.aa.org

[2] wikipedia.org

[3] www.na.org

[4] www.smartrecovery.org

[5] refugerecovery.org

[6] www.celebraterecovery.com

[7] al-anon.org

[8] www.nar-anon.org

[9] www.adultchildren.org

[10] coda.org

Kim Vytell, LCADC, LSW, Director of Clinical Development, earned both her BS and MS in social work from Rutgers University and is an EMDR-trained therapist. She recognizes the impact that addiction and trauma have on individuals, and the importance of addressing both in order to live healthy and happy lives. She is dedicated to helping individuals and families who have been affected by the disease of addiction, believing everyone is capable of recovery. Kim is passionate about helping others move beyond their pasts and discover their true selves.

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