Learn the Lingo: Recovery Terms & Definitions to Know

December 5, 2023

6 mins

Jackie Rosu


Addiction recovery is a broad concept in healthcare, consisting of a variety of treatment and recovery terms specific to the field.

Addiction recovery is a broad concept in healthcare, consisting of various treatment and recovery terms specific to the field. Despite the large amount of associated lingo, it’s important for those in recovery, as well as their support system, to understand treatment options, recovery plans, and how to discuss addiction in a way that minimizes stigma.

Whether you’re new to recovery or want to better educate yourself as an ally, here’s a comprehensive list of terms and what they mean. 

Common Addiction Recovery Terms & Definitions

Recovery Lingo

The terms in this section are related to the addiction recovery process.

  • Abstinence: The act of restraining from participating in a specific activity or behavior, such as drinking alcohol or using drugs.
  • Craving: The urge or desire to continue using a substance.
  • Recovery: A self-directed process of change that occurs when an individual chooses to abstain from a past addiction to better their life.
  • Rehab: A treatment process that may include a combination of medical and mental health treatments for people who are addicted to substances such as drugs and/or alcohol.
  • Sober: The absence of substances in the body as related to addiction. A sober individual is not under the influence of any substances and is considered to be in the same natural state as they were at birth.
  • Stigma: A harmful, negative, and unfair outlook that people have about certain societal groups. An example of stigma surrounding addiction or people suffering from substance use disorder is the belief that individuals with addiction have somehow “morally failed,” as opposed to accurately viewing addiction as a medical condition that can affect anyone.
  • Treatment center: A facility where individuals who struggle with substance use disorder can find rehab, support, and coping tools to help overcome these challenges. Treatment centers can be inpatient or outpatient and stand alone or be part of a larger healthcare system.
  • Trigger: Anything that causes an individual to experience feelings or thoughts that they’ve had before in their addiction journey. Triggers can be specific places, situations, conversations, or people. Triggers can lead to unexpected cravings or a relapse.

Addiction Treatment Terms

The following terms are used to describe different types of treatments available for substance addictions.

  • Detoxification: Detoxification is the process of letting your body remove toxic substances such as drugs and alcohol in a medical and safe environment that can minimize cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Detox treatment is often an important first step in the recovery process.
  • Inpatient treatment: A type of treatment that provides temporary accommodations for individuals with substance use disorder to live on-site for more intensive treatment and monitoring. This typically takes place in a hospital setting.
  • Medical interventions: Actions taken by a doctor or other clinician who is skilled in addiction treatment to improve a person’s health. Most commonly, this refers to medications that can be used to help reduce withdrawal symptoms.
  • Medical maintenance: The use of approved medications that mimic the addictive qualities of stronger substances and can be used to help individuals manage their withdrawal symptoms while they are detoxing. Also called medication-assisted therapy or MAT.
  • Outpatient treatment: Addiction treatment that is provided on an outpatient basis in small periods where an onsite stay is not required. Examples include regular individual therapy sessions and check-ins with an individual’s care team.
  • Partial hospitalization: Provides a level of treatment between inpatient and outpatient programs. Participants usually spend most of their day on-site at a treatment facility but don’t stay overnight.
  • Residential treatment: Similar to inpatient treatment, residential treatment provides living arrangements for more structured addiction treatment but is less intensive. Residential programs last longer than inpatient treatment programs and require less monitoring.

Clinical Addiction Terms

This section defines terms commonly used in a clinical setting, such as a doctor’s office or hospital program.

  • Dual diagnosis: When an individual experiences an addiction alongside another mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression. While these conditions are treated alongside one another, the issues are addressed independently by a trained professional.
  • Endorphins: Hormones produced by the body that respond to pain and stress to relieve symptoms. Endorphins can improve overall health and activate positive feelings. You can naturally boost your endorphin levels through exercise, meditation, and laughing.
  • Evidence-based treatment: Treatments based on scientific research instead of anecdotal results or personal beliefs about what may aid recovery.
  • Intervention: When the loved ones of an individual who is struggling with substance use come together to share their concerns and encourage the person to seek professional help.
  • Interventionist: A mental health professional who helps family members and friends plan an intervention for a loved one. Interventionists develop a plan of support and connect individuals to treatment resources.
  • Relapse: A setback during recovery in which an individual starts using substances after a period of sobriety. It’s important to note that relapsing is a normal part of the recovery journey and is never a sign of “weakness” or failure.
  • Substance Use Disorder (SUD): A treatable mental health disorder that impacts an individual’s brain in a way that makes it challenging for them to control their use of substances. Addiction is the most severe form of SUD.
  • Withdrawal: Physical and mental side effects that result from reducing or stopping the use of a drug or substance. These symptoms may include nausea, depression, anxiety, sweating, headaches, mood swings, flu-like symptoms, and more.

Types of Addiction Therapies

The below recovery terms describe different types of therapies that may be used in addiction treatment.

  • Follow-up therapy: A continuation of treatment provided in a rehab or inpatient center to help individuals maintain their recovery progress and prevent relapse.
  • Family counseling: A type of therapy that involves family members of a loved one who is recovering from an addiction. Family therapy may help heal relationships and make everyone aware of the patient's needs and what can be done to best support them.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): A structured type of talk therapy that has proven effective in treating certain mental health conditions. This therapy combines cognitive and behavioral therapy to solve current problems rather than focusing on the past.
  • 12-step program: A peer-based program that outlines guiding principles for overcoming addiction, building community, and navigating sobriety. A well-known example of a 12-step program is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
  • SMART Recovery: An international community of peer support groups that help and empower people to recover from addictive behaviors through increased motivation and coping tools. SMART stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training.

Addiction-Related Recovery Medications

It may seem like a contradiction, but medication can be a useful tool to help individuals recover from substance use disorders. Below are a few medications mentioned in interactions with a care team.

  • Buprenorphine: A prescription medication that is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help treat an addiction to opioids
  • Methadone: A prescription medication also used to help individuals reduce or quit their use of opioids and improve withdrawal symptoms
  • Naloxone: A life-saving, over-the-counter medication approved by the FDA to help quickly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Also known as Narcan, the medication can be administered by anyone during overdose emergencies, not just healthcare workers.
  • Naltrexone: A prescription approved by the FDA to treat both alcohol use disorder and opioid use disorder by helping individuals abstain from these substances in recovery

Addiction Terms to Avoid

While it’s critical for those in addiction recovery and their loved ones to understand treatment-related addiction terms, it’s also important to know what not to say.

Even with the best of intentions, some recovery language can be harmful or perpetuate stigma. Below are a few words to avoid.

  • Drug/alcohol abuser: “Abuser” is an outdated term for someone who struggles with substance use and may induce shameful feelings. The term “abuse” implies that substance use is a choice when, in reality, it may not be within an individual’s control due to an underlying mental health condition. Instead, use the phrase “a person with substance use disorder” or “a person who misuses substances.”
  • Addict: “Addict” is an antiquated term that bestows an unnecessary and degrading label on people struggling with substance use disorder. Instead of calling someone an addict, use a phrase that takes a human-first approach, such as “a person with a substance use disorder.” This term labels the individual as a person first versus by their condition.
  • Substance abuse: Similar to the above, substance abuse implies that someone is purposefully “abusing” substances, which can feel harsh and shameful. Instead, use “substance misuse.”
  • Opioid replacement therapy: An outdated term for medication-assisted therapy. This term should be avoided as it implies that one drug is being replaced with another or that an individual is “switching” addictions.

Find Treatment and Resources With Never Alone Recovery

Call us if you’re struggling to understand or find the best treatment options for you or a loved one. Our team at Never Alone Recovery is here to help and empower you through your recovery journey with compassion. We offer free drug rehab placement services that can connect you with a treatment center you feel comfortable with.

Call us at 866-788-8335, and check out our other recovery resources

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