Abstinence: Not using drugs or alcohol.
Addiction: A chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive (or difficult to control) drug seeking and use despite harmful consequences and long-lasting changes in the brain. In the past, people who used drugs were called “addicts.” Current appropriate terms are people who use drugs and drug users.
Agonist: A chemical substance that binds to and activates specific cell receptors, causing a biological response. Oxycodone, morphine, heroin, fentanyl, methadone, and endorphins are all examples of opioid receptor agonists.
Amphetamine: A stimulant drug that acts on the central nervous system (CNS). Amphetamines are prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (such as Adderall®) and narcolepsy.
Anabolic-androgenic steroids: Synthetic substances similar to the male hormone testosterone. Often known as “anabolic steroids.” They can promote muscle growth (anabolic effects) and produce changes in male sexual characteristics (androgenic effects) in both males and females.
Analgesics: A group of medications that reduce pain.
Anesthetic: A drug that causes insensitivity to pain and is used for surgeries and other medical procedures.
Antagonist: A chemical substance that binds to and blocks the activation of certain specific receptors on cells, preventing a biological response. Naloxone is an example of an opioid receptor antagonist.
Antidepressant: Medication used to treat depression and other mood and anxiety disorders.
Antipsychotic: Medication used to treat psychosis.
Auditory Hallucinations: Hearing something that is not real. Hearing voices is an example of auditory hallucinations.
Barbiturate: A type of CNS depressant sometimes prescribed to promote relaxation and sleep, but more commonly used in surgical procedures and to treat seizure disorders.
Basal ganglia: The area of the brain that plays a vital role in positive forms of motivation, including the pleasurable effects of healthy activities like eating, socializing, and sex, and is also involved in forming habits and routines. These areas include a crucial node of what is sometimes called the brain’s “reward circuit.”
Benzodiazepine: A CNS depressant sometimes prescribed to relieve anxiety, panic, or acute stress reactions. Some benzodiazepines are prescribed short-term to promote sleep. Diazepam (Valium®) and alprazolam (Xanax®) are the most widely prescribed benzodiazepine medications.
Bipolar Disorder: A disorder that causes severe and unusually high and low shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels and unusual changes in the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. (Also known as “Manic Depression”)
Brainstem: A group of brain structures that process sensory information and control essential functions needed for survival, such as breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, and arousal.
Buprenorphine: An opioid partial agonist medication prescribed to treat opioid addiction that relieves drug cravings without producing the high or dangerous side effects of other opioids.
Cannabidiol (CBD): A component of the marijuana plant without mind-altering effects that are being studied for possible medical uses.
Cannabinoid receptor: The receptor in the brain that recognizes and binds cannabinoids produced in the brain (anandamide) or outside the body (THC).
Cannabinoids: Chemicals that bind to cannabinoid receptors in the brain. They are found naturally in the brain (anandamide, 2-arachidonoylglycerol) and marijuana (THC and CBD). They are involved in various mental and physical processes, including memory, thinking, concentration, movement, pain regulation, food intake, and reward.
Cannabis: Another name for the marijuana plant is Cannabis sativa.
Cardiovascular system: The system consisting of the heart and blood vessels. It delivers nutrients and oxygen to all cells in the body.
Central nervous system (CNS): The system consisting of the nerves in the brain and spinal cord.
Cerebellum: A part of the brain that helps regulate posture, balance, and coordination. It is also involved in emotion, motivation, memory, and thought processes.
Cerebral cortex: The gray matter that covers the surface of the cerebral hemispheres, whose functions include sensory processing and motor control along with language, reasoning, decision-making, and judgment.
Cerebral hemispheres: The right and left halves of the brain.
Cerebrum: The upper part of the brain consisting of the left and right hemispheres.
Chronic: Persisting for a long time or constantly recurring.
Clinical Trial: A scientific study using human volunteers (also called participants) to look at new ways to prevent, detect, or treat disease. Treatments might include new drugs or combinations of drugs, new surgical procedures or devices, or new ways to use existing treatments.
CNS depressants: A class of drugs that include sedatives, tranquilizers, and hypnotics. These drugs slow brain activity, making them helpful in treating anxiety, panic, acute stress reactions, and sleep disorders.
Cognition: Of or relating to the act or process of thinking, understanding, learning, and remembering.
Cognitive Impairment: Experiencing difficulty with cognition. Examples include having trouble paying attention, thinking clearly, or remembering new information.
Cognitive Remediation: Training using various techniques, including computer exercises and adaptive strategies, improves cognition. This therapy is designed to strengthen the underlying brain functions that help support cognitive skills such as memory, attention, and problem-solving.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): A form of psychotherapy that teaches people strategies to identify and correct problematic associations among thoughts, emotions, and behaviors to enhance self-control, stop drug use and address many other problems that often co-occur.
Comorbidity: When two disorders or illnesses occur in the same person. Drug addiction and other mental diseases or viral infections (HIV, hepatitis) are often comorbid. They are also referred to as co-occurring disorders.
Contingency management: A treatment approach that provides incentives to support positive behavior change.
Craving: A powerful, often overwhelming desire to use drugs.
Dependence: A condition that can occur with the regular use of illicit or some prescription drugs, even if taken as prescribed. Dependence is characterized by withdrawal symptoms when drug use is stopped. A person can depend on a substance without being addicted, but support sometimes leads to addiction.
Depression: Lack of interest or pleasure in daily activities, sadness, and feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt that are severe enough to interfere with working, sleeping, studying, eating, and enjoying life.
Detoxification: A process in which the body rids itself of a drug or its metabolites. Medically-assisted detoxification may be needed to help manage a person’s withdrawal symptoms. Detoxification alone is not a treatment for substance use disorders, but this is often the first step in a drug treatment program.
Dopamine: A brain chemical, classified as a neurotransmitter, found in regions of the brain that regulate movement, emotion, motivation, and reinforcement of rewarding behavior. Dopamine release in reward areas of the brain is caused by all drugs to which people can become addicted.
Drug abuse: An older diagnostic term that defines use that is unsafeunsafeunsafeunsafe-unsafe unsafe, unsafe use, which leads a person to fail to fulfill responsibilities or gets them in legal trouble or uses that continues despite causing persistent interpersonal problems. Professionals increasingly avoided by professionals avoid this term because it can perpetuate stigma. Current appropriate terms include drug use (in the case of illicit substances), drug misuse (in the case of problematic use of legal drugs or prescription medications), and addiction (in the case of substance use disorder).
Drugged driving: Driving a vehicle while impaired due to the intoxicating effects of recent drug use.
Dual Diagnosis: Having a mental health disorder and an alcohol or drug problem at the same time simultaneously.
Early Intervention: Diagnosing and treating a mental illness when it first develops.
Electronic cigarette: A battery-operated device that people use to inhale an aerosol, which typically contains nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals; also called e-cigarette, e-cigs, e-vaporizers, or electronic nicotine delivery system.
Flashback: A sudden but temporary recurrence of aspects of a drug experience (including sights, sounds, and feelings) that may occur days, weeks, or even more than a year after using drugs that cause hallucinations.
Hallucinations: Sensations, sounds, and images that seem real though they are not.
Hippocampus: An area of the brain crucial for learning and memory.
Hypothalamus: A part of the brain that controls many bodily functions, including eating, drinking, body temperature regulation, and releasing many hormones.
Illicit: Illegal or forbidden by law.
Impulsivity: A tendency to act without foresight or regard for consequences and to prioritize immediate rewards over long-term goals.
Injection drug use (IDU): Administering drugs by injection. Blood-borne viruses, like HIV and hepatitis, can be transmitted via shared needles or other drug injection equipment.
Inpatient: A primary care (residential) hospital with structured programming.
Intervention: An action intended to help treat or cure a condition.
Intranasal: Taken through the nose.
Mania: An abnormally elevated or irritable mood. Associated is associated with bipolar disorder.
Mental disorder: A mental condition marked primarily by disorganization of personality, mind, and emotions that seriously impair the psychological or behavioral functioning of the individual. This is sometimes referred to as a mental health condition. Addiction is a mental disorder.
Methadone: A long-acting opioid agonist medication used to treat opioid addiction and pain. Methadone used for opioid addiction can only be dispensed by opioid treatment programs certified by SAMHSA and approved by the designated state authority.
Mood Disorders: Mental disorders primarily affect a person’s mood.
Motivational Enhancement Therapy: A counseling approach that uses motivational interviewing techniques to help individuals resolve any uncertainties about stopping their substance use. The therapy helps the person strengthen their plan for change and engagement in treatment.
Naloxone: An opioid antagonist medication approved by the FDA to reverse an opioid overdose. It displaces opioid drugs (such as morphine or heroin) from their receptor and prevents further opioid receptor activation.
Naltrexone: A long-acting opioid antagonist medication that prevents receptors from being activated by other opioids. Naltrexone is used to treat alcohol and opioid use disorders.
National Institue of Mental Health (NIMH): The lead federal agency for research on mental disorders. NIMH is one of the 27 Institutes and Centers that make up the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s medical research agency. NIH is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS): A condition of withdrawal occurs when certain drugs pass from the mother through the placenta into the fetus’ bloodstream during pregnancy, causing the baby to become drug dependent and experience withdrawal after birth. The type and severity of a baby’s withdrawal symptoms depend on the drug(s) used, how long and how often the mother used it, how her body broke down the drug, and if the baby was born full term or prematurely. NAS can require hospitalization and treatment with medication to relieve symptoms.
Neurobiology: The study of the brain and nervous system’s anatomy, function, and diseases.
Neuron (nerve cell): A unique type of cell found in the brain and throughout the body that specializes in transmitting and processing information.
Neurotransmitter: A chemical compound that acts as a messenger to carry signals from one nerve cell to another.
Norepinephrine: A neurotransmitter that affects heart rate, blood pressure, stress, and attention.
Nucleus accumbens: A brain region in the ventral striatum involved in motivation and reward. Nearly all addictive drugs directly or indirectly increase dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, contributing to their addictive properties.
Opioid receptors: Proteins on the surface of neurons, or other cells, that are activated by endogenous opioids, such as endorphins, and opioid drugs, such as heroin. Opioid receptor subtypes include mu, kappa, and delta.
Overdose: An overdose occurs when a person uses enough of a drug to produce a life-threatening reaction or death.
Paranoia: Extreme and unreasonable distrust of others.
Partial agonist: A substance that binds to and activates a receptor to a lesser degree than a full agonist.
Pharmacodynamics: The way a drug acts on the body. This includes the drug’s interaction with its biological target, the resulting changes (such as activation or blocking of receptors), and the relationship between drug dosing and drug effects.
Pharmacokinetics: What the body does to a drug after it has been taken, including how rapidly the drug is absorbed, broken down, and processed by the body.
Pharmacotherapy: Treatment using medications.
Prefrontal cortex: The front part of the brain is responsible for reasoning, planning, problem-solving, and other higher cognitive functions. This area of the brain is not fully mature until adulthood, which confers greater vulnerability to drug use in the adolescent brain.
Prescription drug misuse: The use of medication in ways or amounts other than intended by a doctor, by someone other than for whom the medication is prescribed, or for the experience or feeling the medication causes. This term is used interchangeably with “nonmedical” use, a phrase employed by many national drug use surveys.
Psychedelic drug: A drug that distorts perception, thought and feeling. This term is typically used to refer to drugs with hallucinogenic effects.
Psychoactive: Having a specific effect on the brain.
Psychosis: Delusional or disordered thinking detached from reality; symptoms often include hallucinations.
Psychotherapeutics: Drugs that have an effect on the function of the brain and that are often used to treat psychiatric/neurologic disorders; include pain relievers, tranquilizers, sedatives, and stimulants.
Psychotherapy: Treatment of mental illness by talking about problems rather than medication. Treatment for first-episode psychosis is based on cognitive behavioral therapy principles and emphasizes resilience training, illness and wellness management, and coping skills. Treatment is tailored to each client’s needs.
Receptor: A molecule located on the surface of a cell that recognizes specific chemicals (normally neurotransmitters, hormones, and similar endogenous substances) and transmits the chemical message into the cell.
Recovery: A process of change through which people with substance use disorders improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential.
Relapse: In drug addiction, relapse is the return to drug use after an attempt to stop. Relapse is common in many chronic health disorders, including addiction, requiring frequent behavioral and pharmacologic adjustments to be treated effectively.
Remission: A medical term meaning that significant disease symptoms are eliminated or diminished below a pre-determined harmful level.
Reward: Pleasurable feelings that reinforce behavior and encourage repetition.
Reward system (or brain reward system): A brain circuit includes the ventral tegmental area, the nucleus accumbens, and the prefrontal cortex.
Risk factors increase the likelihood of beginning substance use, regular and harmful use, and other behavioral health problems associated with use.
Route of administration: The way a drug is taken into the body. Medications are most commonly taken by eating, drinking, inhaling, injecting, snorting, or smoking.
SAMHSA: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the nation’s behavioral health. SAMHSA’s mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.
Self-medication: The use of a substance to lessen the adverse effects of stress, anxiety, or other mental disorders (or side effects of their pharmacotherapy) without the guidance of a health care provider. Self-medication may lead to addiction and another drug- or alcohol-related problems.
Serotonin: A neurotransmitter involved in a broad range of effects on perception, movement, and emotions. Serotonin and its receptors are the targets of most hallucinogens.
Stigma: A set of negative attitudes and beliefs that motivate people to fear and discriminate against others. Many people do not understand that addiction is a disorder like other chronic disorders. For these reasons, they frequently attach more stigma to it. Stigma, perceived or actual, often fuels myths and misconceptions and can influence choices. It can impact attitudes about seeking treatment, reactions from family and friends, behavioral health education and awareness, and the likelihood that someone will not seek or remain in treatment.
Substance use disorder (SUD): A medical illness caused by disordered use of a substance or substances. According to the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), SUDs are clinically significant impairments in health, social function, and control over substance use. They are diagnosed by assessing cognitive, behavioral, and psychological symptoms. A SUD can range from mild to severe.
THC: Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol; is the main mind-altering ingredient in marijuana.
Tolerance: A condition in which higher drug doses are required to achieve the desired effect.
Vaping: Inhaling the aerosol or vapor from an electronic cigarette, e-vaporizer, or another device.
Ventral striatum: An area of the brain that is part of the basal ganglia and includes the nucleus accumbens; dopamine is released here in the presence of salient stimuli and in response to physically rewarding activities such as eating, sex, taking drugs, and this process is a crucial factor behind the desire to repeat the behaviors associated with these rewarding activities.
Ventral tegmental area: An area in the brainstem that contains dopamine neurons that make up a vital part of the brain reward system, including the nucleus accumbens and prefrontal cortex.
Withdrawal: Symptoms that can occur after long-term drug use are reduced or stopped; these symptoms occur if tolerance to a substance has occurred and vary according to substance. Withdrawal symptoms can include negative emotions such as stress, anxiety, or depression, as well as physical effects such as nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, and cramping, among others. Withdrawal symptoms often lead a person to use the substance again.