The Definitions of Commonly Used Addiction Treatment Terms

As you search for treatment centers, you may see certain words that leave you squinting at the computer and wondering “What does that mean?”  Although some terms are familiar, the jargon of the addiction and treatment world can be confusing for many beginner researchers.  Here we have complied a glossary of commonly used words and acronyms for your convenience—to maximize search efficacy and minimize squinting.


  • Aftercare: continuing treatment and support offered to the recovering addict after completion of residential rehab.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): a type of therapy that seeks to modify negative thoughts that lead to dysfunctional emotions and actions.
  • Detox: the process of removing alcohol or drugs from a person’s system to achieve physical stability.
  • Holistic: comprehensive care that considers the physical, emotional, social, economic and spiritual needs of the person.
  • Inpatient: treatment services offered to people in a residential setting.
  • Outpatient: a form of treatment where individuals travel to a clinic or hospital to attend sessions and then return home the same day.
  • Relapse Prevention: a vital component in addiction treatment that focuses on identifying and preventing thoughts, feelings, or high-risk situations that trigger relapse.
  • Sober Living Environment (SLE): a group home for a newly recovered addict that is offered right after rehab to ease the transition back to their former lives.


  • Abuse: a pattern of excessive use of alcohol or drugs to the point of self-harm.
  • Acceptance: admitting that you have a problem with addiction and accepting yourself despite it; acceptance is the first step towards recovery.
  • Addiction: an inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response (American Society of Addiction Medicine).
  • Denial: a defense mechanism of substance abusers to avoid the reality of their addiction.
  • Physical Dependence: a state when the chronic use of a substance creates negative physical symptoms on cessation.
  • Tolerance: needing more of a substance to feel the same effects, resulting when the body changes in response to repeated substance use.
  • Withdrawal: the symptoms that occur when a person stops using an addictive substance.


  • Al-Anon: a fellowship of family and friends of alcoholics who share their experience, strength and hope to solve their common problems
  • Enabling: facilitating the progression addiction by protecting the addict from the consequences of his or her own actions.
  • Intervention: an orchestrated attempt by family and friends to get someone to seek professional help with an addiction.

Alcoholics Anonymous

  • Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.): a fellowship of men and women who have had a drinking problem. They share their strength, experience and hope in order to stay sober and help each other stay sober. A.A. groups have expanded to include other addictions, including narcotics (narc-anon), cocaine (cocaine anonymous), and gambling (gamblers anonymous).
  • The Big Book: the nickname given to the book Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women have Recovered from Alcoholism written by Bill W. and Dr. Bob, the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous.
  • Serenity Prayer: the common name for an originally untitled prayer by Reinhold Neibuhr and embraced by Alcoholics Anonymous in 1941 as a part of their program
  • Sponsor: an experienced member of A.A. who guides a new member through the Twelve Steps.
  • Twelve Steps: a set of guiding principles for achieving sobriety used in A.A. and other Twelve Step programs.


  • Dry: a state of abstinence from drugs or alcohol, yet the desire to drink remains so the individual cannot live a content and fulfilling life.
  • H.A.L.T.: an acronym to help identify triggers of relapse: hungry, angry, lonely, tired.
  • Lapse: a temporary return to drugs or alcohol after a period of abstinence.
  • Relapse: a return to drugs or alcohol after a period of abstinence.
  • Recovery: A process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.
  • Sober: a state of abstinence achieved through internal change.
  • Sobriety: a lifestyle characterized by the cessation of substance use or drinking.