Glossary of Terms


The inability to stop. Continual physiological need for a habit-forming substance. Addiction causes people to pursue a substance even when it is associated with negative health or social consequences. Addiction disrupts circuits in the brain that are responsible for reward, motivation, learning, judgment and memory.

Brief Intervention

Brief interventions are provided by trained health care providers to individuals who screen positive for risky use of addictive substances, but do not meet clinical criteria for addiction. They help patients reduce their risky use of substances by providing feedback about the extent and effects of their substance use, enhancing motivation to change their behavior, and offering recommendations for how they might do so. Brief interventions can be conducted face-to-face, over the phone or through computerized feedback to the individual.

Compulsive Behaviors

A set of actions that an individual engages in repeatedly in an unhealthy way, for example, substance use, gambling, sex, eating and the use of technological devices such as video games, television and the Internet. There is evidence that the same brain circuits that are involved in addiction involving substances also may be involved in other compulsive behaviors.


Intense desire for a drug, often triggered by people, places or things that an addict associates with the drug


The process of safely removing addictive substances from the body. Medically-assisted stabilization, also called detoxification, aims to reduce discomfort and potential physical harm for individuals who are experiencing withdrawal. The stabilization process often requires the assistance of medical professionals and may involve the use of pharmaceutical therapies to guide people safely through withdrawal. Stabilization is an important and often necessary prerequisite to effective acute addiction treatment, but it does not itself constitute treatment.


A neurotransmitter that plays a role in movement and feeling of pleasure. Drugs of abuse cause a release of dopamine in the brain, causing the user to feel euphoric or “high”.


A brain chemical that relays information from one brain cell, or neuron, to another. When a neuron communicates with another neuron, it release a specific neurotransmitter; the neurotransmitter then binds to a neighboring neuron and causes changes in the body of that neuron.


Overcoming drug addiction. Counseling, group therapy and medications are used to help addicts quit using drugs. Part of recovery is the physical healing of any parts of the brain damaged by the drug use.


To revert back to drug use while trying to overcome addiction. Relapse is common among recovering addicts.


A term used in reference to changing behaviors of individuals with the disease of addiction to achieve abstinence and encourage other socially acceptable behaviors.

Residential Treatment

An addiction treatment venue where patients live away from home, typically for several weeks or months, in a facility that provides treatment but not hospital care.

Reward Pathway

A central part of the brain, stretching from the brain stem to the front of the cerebral cortex. The reward pathway is stimulated by dopamine in response to actions related to survival-like eating-aswell as other pleasurable activities, like having spending time with friends or listening to music. Drugs also cause an increase in dopamine levels in the reward pathway.

Risk Factor

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.


The reduction in response to the drug after prolonged use. Drugs change the brain in a way that makes it harder for a drug user to feel the same rush of pleasure he or she did at first; higher and higher doses of the drug are required to reach that level of pleasure. Drug user needs to increase the amount used in order to achieve the desired effect.


Psychosocial (i.e., types of counseling) and pharmaceutical (medication) therapies that have been shown to be effective in treating and helping to manage addiction.


Physical symptoms experienced by someone dependent on a drug when the drug is not in his or her system. May include shaky hands, nausea, sweating or insomnia. Withdrawal from certain drugs, such as alcohol, can be life-threatening.