A Brief Addiction Glossary

Rabbi Azriel Hauptman

The disease of addiction is one of the greatest challenges of our generation. Addictions can cause untold harm to relationships, livelihoods, and health and is sometimes fatal. One of the ways that we can be proactive in the fight against addiction is to educate ourselves about the nature of this dreadful disease. One of the prerequisites of learning about addiction is to familiarize ourselves in the language that we use in describing many aspects of addiction. Therefore, in this article we are presenting a brief glossary in alphabetical order of some common addiction terminologies.

Addiction: Addiction is a brain-related disease characterized by compulsive seeking of the addictive substance or behavior despite negative and destructive consequences. Addictions develop from substances or behaviors that were (and may continue to be) pleasurable.

Comorbidity: Two disorders are considered comorbid when they are occurring in a person at the same time. Addiction is commonly comorbid with other disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

Compulsivity: Compulsive behaviors are actions that one does to diminish negative feelings. In addictions, it is a result of cravings, as one feels compelled to do his addiction to quiet the persistent cravings. Compulsions have applications in other areas, such is in OCD where one engages in compulsive behaviors to diminish the obsessive and intrusive thoughts.

Craving: Craving is the strong and often irresistible urge to consume a substance or engage in a behavior.

Dependence: Dependence is a condition where a person will suffer withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of using a certain substance or engaging in a certain behavior. Dependence does not always involve an addiction. For example, certain medical conditions require taking steroid medication. The medication is not addictive, but a person can become dependent and suffer from acute symptoms unless the medication is slowly tapered off. With addictive substances or behaviors, dependence is often a precursor for an addiction. Sometimes, the physical dependence is so strong that stopping “cold-turkey” can be life threatening, such as with alcohol or opioid dependence.

Medical Detoxification (“Detox”): As mentioned earlier, when one is dependent on a substance, stopping the use of the substance can be dangerous. Medical detoxification refers to the medical supervision that is vital in safely managing the symptoms of withdrawal. Detoxification is not a comprehensive treatment for the disease of addiction, but it is the first step.

Impulsivity: When one acts quickly and does not think through the pros and cons of engaging in a specific behavior, he or she is acting impulsively. This is sometimes a factor in the early development of an addiction, as one does not foresee future consequences.

Overdose: An overdose occurs when one ingests enough of a substance that it produces a life threatening response. Overdoses are usually accidental. Opioids, such as heroin, fentanyl, and prescription pain relievers, are the most common cause of death from overdose. In the United States, more than 130 people die every day from an opioid overdose.

Recovery: Recovery is very different than a cure. It is commonly accepted that there is no cure for the disease of addiction. This means that one cannot forget about the addiction and make believe as if it never happened, as there is always a risk of relapse. Recovery describes a situation where one’s life has returned to a normal and healthy state. Addicts will describe themselves as being “in recovery” even if they have not used in decades. This important terminology is a strong reminder that if one wants to avoid relapse, one must be proactive in maintaining emotional and mental wellbeing.

Relapse: In addictions, relapse refers to a return to using after having stopped for some time. Relapse is common in addictions, and comprehensive addiction treatments contain components for dealing with relapses.

Reward: Reward is the term we use in addictions to refer to the pleasurable feelings that one experienced from the substance or behavior that ultimately led to the development of an addiction.

Self-Medicating: When one suffers from the effects of depression, anxiety, or trauma one might engage in addictive substances or behaviors in order to lessen the negative effects of these disorders. Self-medicating often leads to an addiction. When competent physicians prescribe medications, they are careful to avoid any type of medicinal use that would lead to an addiction.

Tolerance: When someone has the disease of addiction, the cravings compel you to engage in the addictive behavior or substance. When you reach tolerance, then a higher amount of the substance or behavior is required in order to achieve the desired effect. Tolerance leads to the escalation of the addiction and can be a risk factor for overdosing.

Withdrawal: Withdrawal refers to the symptoms one experiences when the addiction is stopped or reduced. Withdrawal symptoms can be emotional, such as stress, anxiety, and depression, or physical, such as nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, and cramping.

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