Addiction Treatment Definitions

Navigating substance abuse and treatment options can be overwhelming. Understanding these basic definitions about addiction and recovery can help you get a better handle on words and phrases you might not already be familiar with.

Addiction definitions


Addiction is a chronic mental health disorder whereby a person compulsively uses a substance even when it is detrimental to their own life and wellbeing. The disease involves complex interactions between the brain, genetics, and a person’s environment. Despite its complexity, addiction is treatable, with a heavy emphasis on relapse prevention.


Dependence is a physical change that occurs when an individual’s body becomes accustomed to having a certain substance, preventing them from functioning normally without that substance. Dependence is one of the key elements of addiction.

Substance Use Disorder (SUD)

Substance use disorder (SUD) is used to diagnose addiction and substance abuse according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The disorder is characterized by a pattern of physical dependence, risky use, social impairment, and impulse control related to substance use.


Tolerance occurs when a person’s body has become accustomed to a specific dose of a substance so it no longer has the same effect. As a result of tolerance, individuals begin to take higher and higher doses.


Withdrawal is a condition that occurs when a person is physically dependent on a substance. When they stop using or drastically cut back on use, the body experiences a series of withdrawal symptoms that may be unpleasant or dangerous as the body re-adjusts to not having the substance.

Treatment & recovery definitions

Evidence-based treatment

Evidence-based treatments are therapeutic modalities or techniques that have been scientifically tested to ensure they are effective. These treatments are backed by rigorous research that can identify the ideal population or conditions for their efficacy.

Individualized treatment

Individualized treatment is designed according to your history of substance abuse, mental health issues, and other needs. Since addiction can be so complex, addiction treatment centers design an individualized treatment plan for each person, which can be adjusted as needed throughout the course of treatment.


Recovery in addiction is not an end-point but rather a process. It requires a continuous effort to improve one’s own health and wellness while actively abstaining from substance use. To successfully avoid relapse, recovery involves continuously managing stressful or negative situations without turning to substance use as a coping mechanism.

Specialized treatment

Specialized treatment is designed to accommodate specific types of individuals. For example, people suffering from co-occurring mental illness or LGBTQ individuals.

Types of addiction treatments

Though addiction treatment is individualized according to the needs of the individual, levels of care for treating substance abuse generally progress as follows.

Medical detox

Medical detox is typically the first intervention in addiction treatment. This treatment helps individuals safely eliminate a substance from their system. With round-the-clock medical supervision to manage withdrawal symptoms, a person is kept safe and comfortable through the difficult detoxification process.

Inpatient treatment

For severe addiction and substance abuse, inpatient addiction treatment is often recommended, typically following medical detox. This is one of the most intensive forms of rehab. During inpatient treatment, a person stays for a period of time at a recovery facility where they can remain under the close supervision of doctors and other medical professionals while undergoing therapy.

Residential treatment

Though residential and inpatient treatment are often used interchangeably, residential treatment is a lower level of care that does not have the same focus on medical intervention. The person in residential rehab still resides at the treatment center, and their days are structured with individual and group therapy, wellness activities, and personal time.

Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)

Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) are the highest level of care for outpatient programs. It’s designed to provide intensive treatment for up to 8 hours per day, 7 days a week while allowing the individual to sleep at home.

Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)

Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) require less of a time commitment, allowing individuals to sleep at home and even work while attending treatment. Treatment schedules range from 3-6 hours per day for 3 to 7 days a week.

Standard outpatient treatment

Outpatient treatment is the least intense level of care in addiction treatment. It involves a light schedule of treatment that is usually a step down for people who have completed inpatient or intensive outpatient treatment.

Treatment approaches

There are many effective therapy and treatment options for addiction and substance abuse. Not all treatment approaches are appropriate for every individual or every situation. Sometimes addiction treatment involves a combination of these approaches to maximize their effectiveness. These are many of the interventions that have been shown as effective for treating addiction.

Biofeedback therapy

Biofeedback therapy is a technique that helps individuals gain control over certain physical processes like heart rate. Through subtle changes like muscle relaxation, a person can improve their mental and physical functioning.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a psychotherapy that helps individuals change maladaptive patterns of thinking and behaving. By identifying negative patterns, a person can create positive change in their lives.

Contingency management

Contingency management is a therapy that makes use of incentives or rewards to maintain desired behaviors such as sobriety. Rewards can be vouchers or tokens that can be accumulated for larger rewards.

Dialectical-behavioral therapy (DBT)

Dialectical-behavioral therapy (DBT) is designed to provide important skills to manage emotions and social relationships. It emphasizes the contradictory need to change certain things while accepting that some situations are the way they are.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR was designed to treat trauma. Using therapist-directed eye movements, a person can desensitize themselves to emotionally disturbing material as a way to process their distressing emotions. This treatment can be used concurrently with other therapies to treat substance abuse for people who have a history of trauma.

Family therapy

Family therapy is designed to treat the family unit. According to the principles of family therapy, addiction affects everyone in a family unit, so the therapy is designed to heal wounds and improve relationships that have been strained by substance use.

Group therapy

Group therapy is used in conjunction with individual therapy in many addiction treatment programs. In groups ranging from around 5 to 15 people, individuals can share their experiences and help others process their substance abuse. An important component of group therapy is the support system that helps individuals feel less alone and can lead to lasting improvement.

Holistic therapies

Holistic therapies focus on treating the whole person rather than specific mental health issues like addiction. These treatments often supplement other types of therapy to increase general wellbeing. Holistic therapies include mindfulness, meditation, yoga, massage therapy, art and music therapy.

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)

In some cases, addiction treatment requires the use of medication to treat substance use or withdrawal symptoms. These are known as medication-assisted treatments (MATs). These medications may reverse the effect of certain substances to prevent deadly overdose. They may also be safer alternatives to help a person taper off use of a drug. Some examples of MATs include methadone, naltrexone, and buprenorphine for opioid use; or acamprosate and disulfiram for alcohol use disorder.

Motivational interviewing

Motivational interviewing (MI) is a therapeutic intervention designed to improve a patient’s personal motivation to quit using. During MI, individuals are guided to resolve feelings of ambivalence about addiction treatment and create a plan for change.


Pharmacogenetics is a field that studies how a person’s genetic makeup influences how they will respond to medications. This can help specialize drug treatment to increase the likelihood that a drug will be effective while reducing the likelihood of adverse effects.


Pharmacotherapy is the use of prescribed pharmaceuticals to treat certain disorders. In addiction treatment, pharmacotherapy is used to replace the drug of dependence with a safer prescribed alternative that reduces withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings.


Psychoeducation is an important component of many addiction treatment programs as it can educate individuals to better understand their addiction and the course of recovery. Psychoeducation can involve skill-building, relapse-prevention, and stress management.

Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT)

Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) helps directly challenge a person’s maladaptive or irrational thoughts and emotions to help them build healthier ways of thinking and behaving.

Seeking Safety

Seeking Safety therapy is designed to help trauma victims and those with substance abuse issues achieve a sense of safety. This treatment doesn’t require individuals to delve deep into their trauma, rather it treats future safety and security as the main goal.

Recovery support groups

12-Step facilitation therapy

12-Step facilitation therapies encourage participation and engagement with 12-Step programs. By motivating a person to have better involvement in these programs, facilitation therapy promotes long-term recovery.

12-Step program

12-Step programs are group therapy programs that teach individuals how to support their long-term recovery by engaging with 12 steps seen as crucial to abstinence. One of the cornerstones of 12-Step programs is the concept of a sponsor, which is another group member who can support recovery and who they can turn to if there is a risk of relapse.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is one of the most well-known 12-Step programs, but many other programs exist based on these principles including Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Codependents Anonymous (CODA), and Al-Anon.

SMART Recovery

SMART recovery is an evidence-based treatment similar to the 12-Step program that does not involve a spiritual component like the 12-Step programs. SMART Recovery focuses on building motivation for change, coping with cravings, managing thoughts and behaviors, and living a healthier life.

Virtual support groups

Virtual support meetings can help with addiction treatment by providing flexibility. These group meetings take place online.

Post-treatment definitions


Aftercare is a part of ongoing recovery that follows addiction treatment. An aftercare plan can reduce the likelihood of relapse by providing ongoing resources and recovery treatment.

Alumni programs

Alumni programs can support individuals after they have completed treatment. These programs can help keep individuals engaged in their recovery by offering meetings and other resources.


Relapse occurs when a person uses drugs or alcohol again after a period of abstinence. Relapse is a common part of recovery since addiction is a chronic condition that can re-emerge after long periods of sobriety.

Sober living

Sober living residences are specialized residential communities where a person who has completed treatment can stay before returning to their home environment. Sober living residences support recovery through accountability. For instance, residents may be required to undergo routine drug testing.

Insurance definitions

Addiction treatment may be expensive, but insurance can help. These insurance terms can help you better understand health insurance coverage to make it easier to determine how much of your treatment is covered by insurance.


Coopayment, or copay for short, is the set amount patients are required to pay at the time of service. These amounts are typically pre-determined by the health insurance company.


Coinsurance is the percentage of health-care costs that you are responsible for after the deductible has been paid. For example, if the coinsurance is 30%, the patient pays 30% of costs incurred after the deductible and the insurance company pays the other 70%.


A deductible is how much a patient is required to pay before the insurance company will cover expenses. For example, if the deductible is $1000, you would have to pay a total of $1000 before the insurance starts to cover healthcare costs. The lower the deductible, the more expensive the insurance tends to be.


In-network providers are those that are contracted to provide healthcare services with your insurer. Many insurance companies will only cover in-network providers since they pay a reduced fee for their services.


Medicaid is government-provided insurance that provides free or low-cost coverage to individuals under a certain income or with limited resources. Low-income families, people with disabilities, and older adults may qualify for Medicaid.


Medicare is federal insurance coverage that provides free healthcare to people older than 65 and people with disabilities.


Out-of-network providers are not under contract with an insurance company. These providers may be more expensive or may not be covered at all by insurance.


Out-of-pocket is used to describe how much a person is responsible for paying for healthcare services. Out-of-pocket expenses include copays, coinsurance, and deductibles. In some cases, insurance companies have out-of-pocket maximums which means they cover all remaining costs after the maximum has been reached.


A premium is the monthly sum a person pays for health insurance. A plan with a higher premium will generally have lower out-of-pocket costs like deductibles and copays.

Treatment center accreditation definitions


The Commission on Accreditation of Rehab Facilities (CARF) is a nonprofit accreditor of addiction treatment centers, retirement homes, and other health and human services. To be accredited by CARF, programs must meet a high standard with a demonstrated commitment to providing effective medical services.

Chemical dependency treatment facility

A chemical dependency treatment facility as a licensed facility that provides addiction treatment.

Joint Commission

The Joint Commission is the oldest and largest accrediting body in healthcare. It improves healthcare standards and ensures patient safety by ensuring that treatment centers meet key standards of care.

Privacy and confidentiality definitions


Confidentiality in addiction treatment is an important requirement for medical and treatment center licensing. Addiction treatment providers are required to maintain confidentiality of identity, diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment plan.


The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) regulates the use and disclosure of health information, allowing patients to fully control how that information can be used. This law ensures that healthcare providers including addiction treatment centers cannot share a person’s health records without prior consent.

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