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A Glossary of Common Drug Addiction Terms: Do You Know the Meaning of…? 

April 03, 2015  |  Falmouth Enterprise

Dr. Michael Bihari

If you read a lot about the growing problem with drug addiction, including the Risky Business column, local newspapers, and your favorite online resources and apps, you will notice an excess of jargon and terminology related to the issue. Listed below are some common drug addiction terms and a brief description of what they mean. 

Abstinence: Refraining from further drug use.

Addict: A stigmatizing slang term for an individual with an addiction disorder.

Addiction: A complex and often chronic brain disease involving compulsive drug seeking and use, despite serious health and social consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain. Drug addiction disrupts circuits in the brain that are responsible for reward, motivation, learning, judgment and memory.

Barbiturate: A type of depressant medication prescribed to promote sleep or as a treatment for convulsions. Barbiturates are a commonly misused drug and are referred on the street as Barbs, Downers, and Sleepers. Examples include Seconal, Luminal, and Nembutal.

Behavioral Health: The term is often used in place of the term "mental health" to distinguish mental health and addiction from other health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease. Because there are no medical tests (such blood, urine tests, and x-rays) for addiction and most mental illnesses, these diseases are diagnosed by looking at an individual’s behavior.

Benzodiazepine: A type of medication prescribed to relieve anxiety and sleep problems. Benzodiazepines are a commonly misused drug and are referred to on the street as Benzos, Downers, Nerve Pills, and Tranks. Examples include Valium and Xanax.

Central Nervous System (CNS): The brain and spinal cord.

Codependent: A relative, dose friend, or colleague of a drug-dependent person, whose actions tend to perpetuate that person's dependence and thereby slow down or interfere with the process of recovery.

Comorbidity: The occurrence of two disorders or illnesses in the same person, also referred to as co-occurring conditions or dual diagnosis. For example, someone who has been diagnosed with both severe depression and an addiction to prescription pain medication.

Craving: A powerful and strong desire/urge for a substance; a symptom of the abnormal brain adaptions that result from addiction.

DEA: Drug Enforcement Administration. Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Denial: The refusal to admit to one's self the truth or reality, for example, a person who refuses to admit that they have a problem with alcohol or drugs.

Doctor Shopping: Occurs when someone requests care simultaneously from multiple physicians without their knowledge in order to receive higher amounts of medications.

Euphoria: A pleasurable state of altered consciousness. A feeling of well-being.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Administers federal laws regarding the safety and effectiveness of drugs.

Gateway drug: A drug, the use of which is though to open the way to the use of another drug, usually one viewed as more problematic. For example, prescription painkiller abuse leading to heroin use.

Habit: An outdated term for dependence on a drug.

Illegal/Illicit Drugs: Drugs that are illegal to produce, use, and sell.

Medically-Assisted Stabilization: Also known as detoxification or detox. Stabilization, often the first step in drug abuse treatment, is he process of safely removing addictive substances (such as heroin) from the body. During this period, symptoms can occur that may require medical treatment to reduce discomfort and potential physical harm for individuals who are experiencing withdrawal. Stabilization is an important first step to effective addiction treatment.

Opioid: A drug (legal or otherwise) that binds to the region in the brain (known as receptors) that is involved in the control of pain and other functions. Examples of opioids include morphine, heroin, hydrocodone, and oxycodone.

Outpatient Addiction Treatment: Services offered in an office or clinic setting involving addiction treatment that does not require an overnight stay. Often consists of individual and group therapy on a regular basis, typically daily.

Overdose: A drug overdose happens when someone takes too much of a drug, whether it is an illegal substance or a prescription drug. An overdose can lead to serious medical symptoms, including death. 

Physical Dependence: A state that occurs with regular drug use and results in withdrawal symptoms when drug use is stopped; often occurs with tolerance. Physical dependence can happen with the ongoing use of many medications, even appropriate, ones.

Prescription Drug Abuse: Taking someone else’s prescription medications. Taking a prescription medication in ways other than prescribed. Taking a prescription medication for a poor reason, such as getting high.

Psychotherapeutics: Drugs that have an effect on the function of the brain and that often are used to treat behavioral health disorders (such as depression and anxiety), neurological illnesses (such as Parkinson’s disease). 

Rehabilitation (Rehab):  The process by which someone with a substance use disorder achieves an improved state of health, psychological functioning, and social well-being. Rehabilitation usually follows medical stabilization (detox) and initial medical and psychiatric treatment. Rehab may include group therapy, behavior therapies to prevent a relapse, involvement with a support group, residence in a therapeutic community (rehabilitation facility) or half-way house, job training, work experience, and development of social skills.

Respiratory Depression: Slowing of respiration (breathing) that results in the reduced availability of oxygen to the brain and other vital organs. Is one of the most important signs of a drug overdose and demands immediate medical intervention.

Risk Factors: A biological, psychological or environmental influence that can increase one’s chance of having a disease such as addiction. Examples include inheriting genes associated with addiction or a family history of addiction, exposure to physical or sexual abuse or other trauma, and co-occurring mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression.

Stimulants: Drugs that act on the central nervous system to produce excitation, alertness and wakefulness. The most common medical use is to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and are used by some students who think (incorrectly) that stimulants will improve their scholastic ability. Stimulants are referred to on the street as Uppers, Bumblebees, and Speed. Examples include Adderall and Ritalin.

Straight: Not using drugs; not intoxicated with drugs or under their influence.

Substance Abuse: The excessive use of a substance, especially alcohol or a drug. When used in a healthcare setting, it means that someone had been diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder, such as heroin addiction. Some addiction experts feel that the use of the term should be avoided as it is imprecise and potentially insulting because it implies that the person is intentionally and purposefully committing a socially unacceptable act. 

Tolerance: A condition in which higher doses of a drug are required to produce the same effect achieved during initial use; often associated with physical dependence.

User: Outdated term used to describe one who misuses alcohol or drugs.

Withdrawal: Symptoms that occur after chronic use of a drug is reduced abruptly or stopped. For example, symptoms of stopping heroin, which generally occur between 4 to 72 hours after withdrawal, may include watery eyes, yawning, loss of appetite, panic, insomnia, vomiting, shaking, irritability, jitters, and other emotional and physical symptoms.

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