Here you can find definitions and explanations of terms relating to drug and alcohol addiction, abuse, support and treatment and street names of some drugs.


There is a huge range of terms that are used in medical settings, within the drugs field and with varying degrees of accuracy in the media. The following list is not comprehensive, and seeks only to clarify some of the more common terms that are likely to be encountered.


Abstinence: not using a drug, usually one that had previously been used problematically. Not all drug treatment methods work towards abstinence.


Abuse: The term drug-abuse is a social, legal and medical construction; legally, the use of any illegal drug could be construed as drug-abuse. Medically, the use of medicines in a non-prescribed manner would be drug-abuse. And socially, using certain drugs that are not accepted by wider society, or using in a fashion that is not condoned by society is drug abuse. Thus, drinking alcohol in moderation in certain settings is not considered drug abuse, while drinking a bottle of spirits a night is; the taking of Valium prescribed by your doctor is drug not abuse, and taking the same pills if given by a friend is. Because of the value-laden nature of the term, many people talk about drug-use rather than abuse.


Addictive; Addiction; Addict; Addictive Personality: These terms cause much confusion. The term ‘dependency’ is often preferred. However, some sources still use these terms. The World Health Organisation defined drug addiction as: a state of periodic or chronic intoxication, detrimental to the individual and to society, produced by repeated consumption of a drug (natural or synthetic). Its characteristics include: 1: an overpowering desire or need (compulsion) to continue taking the drug and to obtain it by any means; 2: a tendency to increase the dose; and 3: a psychic (psychological) and sometimes physical dependence on the effects of the drug. [World Health Organisation 1950] Within this definition some drugs (e.g. heroin) are physically addictive, and there is a potential for most other drugs for psychological addiction. The term “addict” is widely seen to be pejorative. Within some models, some individuals are thought to have a proclivity towards drug addiction, and are said to have an addictive personality.


Aftercare: Services following hospitalisation or rehabilitation, individualized for each patient’s needs. Aftercare gradually phases the patient out of treatment while providing follow-up attention to prevent relapse.


Agonist (or partial agonist): In the context of addiction treatment a drug, such as Buprenorphine, used to attach to a receptor cell and mimic the effect of a substance (such as Heroin).


Alcoholism: A disease that includes alcohol craving and continued drinking despite repeated alcohol-related problems, such as losing a job or getting into trouble with the law. Symptoms include craving, impaired control, physical dependence, and increased tolerance.


Alcohol abuse: A pattern of problem drinking that results in health consequences, social problems, or both. Different from alcoholism or alcohol dependence.

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Alcohol detoxification: the process by which alcohol is cleared from the body, leaving an individual alcohol-free. There are various treatments that support and encourage this process.


Alcohol misuse: Alcoholism is a dependency on alcohol characterized by craving (a strong need to drink), loss of control (being unable to stop drinking despite a desire to do so), physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms, and tolerance (increasing difficulty of becoming drunk).


Alcohol rehab / treatment Information: Alcohol rehab or treatment programs have grown dramatically in the past 30 years. Alcohol abuse is treated in specialised rehab facilities and mental health clinics. Alcohol abuse has a great economic impact, costing billions each year. Alcohol rehab can dramatically reduce the cost and problem. There is a wide range of financial variables, levels of care and philosophical differences among the various alcohol rehab programs.


Amphetamines: speed, whiz, stimulant (upper drugs acting on the Central Nervous System.)


Ampoule: small vials of glass or plastic, containing drugs for injecting; examples include methadone, Valium, Df118 and certain Anabolic steroids.


Analgesic: A drug that relieves pain; their are Narcotic Analgesics which contain opiate-type drugs, and can produce dependence, Non-narcotic analgesics such as Aspirin which are not opiate based, and Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAID) such as Ibuprofen.


Antagonist: In the context of addiction treatment, a drug such as Naloxone, that does not provoke a biological response itself upon binding to a receptor, but blocks responses to certain drugs.


Antidepressants: are used to relieve the symptoms of depressive illness.


Anxiolytic: Drugs that relieve medically diagnosed anxiety.


Assessment: An evaluation, usually performed by a physician, clinician and/or qualified other of a person’s mental, emotional, and social capabilities.

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Barbiturate: Depressant-drugs used as sedatives, general anaesthetics, anticonvulsants and anti-epileptics.


Benzodiazepines: Large family of depressant drugs that includes Valium, Temazepam


Budder a light green compound made entirely from cannabis buds it is inhaled by itself from a hot knife or coal and is purported to be the strongest and most potent form of Cannabis available.


Buprenorphine: an opioid drug with partial agonist and antagonist actions. Commonly used in the treatment of Narcotic addiction.


Butyl Nitrite: Commonly available form of an Alkyl Nitrite, a drug controlled under the Medicines Act; Poppers

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Cannabis: Plant from which is derived drug of the same name.


Care co-ordination: A central, ongoing component of an effective system of care for each client


Care management: A set of activities which assures that every person served by the treatment system has a single approved care (service) plan that is coordinated, not duplicative, and designed to assure cost effective and good outcomes. Care Managers will oversee a patient’s journey through treatment.


Client centred therapy: Person-centred therapy, which is also known as client-centred, non-directive, or Rogerian therapy, is an approach to counseling and psychotherapy that places much of the responsibility for the treatment process on the client, with the therapist taking a nondirective role.


Cocaine: Charlie, Coke, and Cocaine Hydrochloride. Stimulant drug derived from coca plant.


Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): Cognitive therapy or cognitive behavioural therapy is a kind of psychotherapy used to treat depression, anxiety disorders, phobias, and other forms of mental disorder. It involves recognising distorted thinking and learning to replace it with more realistic substitute ideas. Its practitioners hold that much (though not all) clinical depression is associated with (although not necessarily caused by) irrational thoughts.


Counsellor: someone that provides direction or advice as to a decision or course of action. The term is often used interchangeably with the term Therapist or Psychotherapist.


CNS: The Central Nervous System, upon which certain drugs act.


Controlled Drug: A drug whose use is restricted under the Misuse of Drugs Act; Class and Schedule will list a controlled drug in the act.


Crack: A smokeable form of Cocaine freebase in rock form


Crystal Meth: the crystalline, smokeable form of Methamphetamine. Methylamphetamine (commonly referred to as methamphetamine) is one of a group of stimulant drugs called amphetamines that act on the brain and nervous system. Like cocaine and amphetamines, methylamphetamine has stimulant properties but is much longer acting. The crystalline form – sometimes called ‘Ice’ – like ‘crack cocaine’ can be easily smoked and can rapidly lead to high blood levels. It’s also long-acting compared to crack so it’s an extremely powerful and addictive stimulant.

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Day care: Addiction treatment being carried out during day time hours, normally structured around each individuals circumstances i.e. work etc.


Dependency: The World Health Organisation defined dependency as “a state, psychic and sometimes also physical, resulting from the interaction between a living organism and a drug, characterised by behavioural and other responses that always include a compulsion to take the drug on a continuous or periodic basis in order to experience its psychic effects, and sometimes to avoid the discomfort of its absence. Tolerance may or may not be present. A person may be dependent on one or more drug.


Dependence: This term describes the compulsion to continue taking a drug in order to feel good or to avoid feeling bad. Physical dependence is the need to take a drug to avoid physical discomfort or withdrawal. Psychological dependence is the need to take a drug for psychological reasons, such as the need for stimulation or pleasure or to escape reality.


Depressant: A drug whose effect is to slow down the functioning of the CNS and some organs.


Detoxification: The process by which drugs are cleared from the body, leaving an individual drug-free. There are various treatments that support and encourage this process.


Detox: Short for detoxification, is the first step of the drug or alcohol rehab, treatment process. Withdrawal is the term used to describe the body’s reaction to the removal of any substance it has come to be dependent on. Detox is the first step because until there is no alcohol or drugs in a person’s body, withdrawal can cause severe craving for more. Additionally, while in a drug or alcohol induced state, a person is not fully prepared to participate in the educational and therapeutic process of rehab and treatment.


Disassociative-anaesthetic: Analgesics that cause a sense of mind/body separation.


Drug: A drug is any substance that, when taken into the body, changes the way we feel, the way we perceive things and the way the body works. The word ‘drug’ is often interchanged with the word ’substance’. Drugs include legal substances such as alcohol, tobacco, volatile substances and prescribed medications, as well as illegal substances.


Drug abuse: The term drug-abuse is a social, legal and medical construction; legally, the use of any illegal drug could be construed as drug-abuse. Medically, the use of medicines in a non-prescribed manner would be drug-abuse. And socially, using certain drugs that are not accepted by wider society, or using in a fashion that is not condoned by society is drug abuse. Thus, drinking alcohol in moderation in certain settings is not considered drug abuse, while drinking a bottle of spirits a night is; the taking of Valium prescribed by your doctor is drug not abuse, and taking the same pills if given by a friend is. Because of the value-laden nature of the term, many people talk about drug-use rather than abuse.


Drug misuse: The term misuse implies that the use is harmful or done ‘in the wrong way’. Misuse refers to use that is dependant or part of a problematic or harmful behaviour.


Drug use: The term refers to the taking of the drug, either by swallowing, smoking, injecting or any other way that gets the drug into the bloodstream.


Dual diagnosis: A much-debated term usually means that both drug use and mental health issues are present and that there is a relationship between the two that makes it difficult or not possible to tackle the two independently.

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Ecstasy: The drug MDMA, E, XTC


Enactogenic: A term used by a few organisations to describe the family of drugs of which MDMA, MDA and MDEA are all part.


Ephedrine: CNS stimulant drug, precursor drug and component used in the manufacture of Methamphetamine


Family Support: Help for the family with alcohol, drug addiction and substance abuse


Freebase: the base form of cocaine, as opposed to the salt form of cocaine hydrochloride. Whereas cocaine hydrochloride is extremely soluble in water, cocaine base is insoluble in water and is therefore not suitable for drinking, snorting or injecting. Smoking freebase is preferred by many users because the cocaine is absorbed immediately into blood via the lungs, reaching the brain in about five seconds


Guarana: Naturally occurring Amazonian plant extract which is a CNS stimulant; a legal high.


GHB: Gamma Hydroxy Butyrate; drug controlled under the Medicines Act, popular in club settings; aka GBH.


Hallucinogen: A confusing term for drugs that cause distortion of perception, not necessarily true hallucinations. While some drugs like LSD clearly fall into this category, many other drugs such as cannabis, alcohol can also cause some sensory-distortion yet are often not classed as true hallucinogens.


Heroin: opiate drug derived from the opium poppy.


Home detoxification: The process by which drugs are cleared from the body, leaving an individual drug-free. There are various treatments that support and encourage this process. This can now be carried out under medical supervision in the comfort of the clients own home


Hypnotic: Drugs that induce sleep by their action on the brain.

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Intravenous: technically, the introduction of a drug into a vein, but widely used to refer to all injecting drug use.




Kava Kava: A CNS stimulant, a legal high.


Ketamine: a Disassociative anaesthetic, K, Special-K.


Khat: qat, kat: a CNS stimulant. Young leaves of the khat plant chewed for their stimulant effects.


Linctus: methadone-based preparation primarily used for chronic cough problems; the term is often used incorrectly in place of methadone mixture.


Maintenance: a term used in relation to an individual being prescribed methadone and being medically supervised


Managed care: a term used in relation to a clients care being managed professionally by a team of qualified staff i.e. GP, Nurse, and Counsellor.


MAOI: Monoamine-Oxidise Inhibitor: group of anti-depressant drugs, which can relieve some symptoms of depressive illness by slowing the breakdown of monoamines such as noradrenaline and serotonin. Can result in severe interactions with some other drugs and foodstuffs.


Marijuana: Drug derived from the cannabis plant.


Marijuana information: see separate sections


MDA: Methylenedioxyamphetamine, a PhenylEthylAmine related to Ecstasy, but more Trippy


MDEA: Methylenedioxyethylamphetamine: A PhenylEthylAmine, related to Ecstasy but more speedy.


MDMA: Methylenedioxymethylamphetamine: true Ecstasy


Methadone: a synthetic opioid, used medically as an analgesic and in the treatment of narcotic addiction (commonly heroin).


Methamphetamine: a potent central nervous system stimulant, popularly shortened to meth and also nicknamed “ice”, is a psychostimulant and sympathomimetic drug. (substances that mimic the effects of the hormone epinephrine (adrenaline)).


Minnesota Model: a philosophy of treatment carried out in some treatment centres that advocate abstinence and the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and other self help groups. Formally founded in the USA.


Motivational interviewing: a client centred, directive method for enhancing intrinsic motivation to change by exploring and resolving ambivalence.

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Naloxone: An Antagonist and a drug used to counter the effects of opioid overdose, for example heroin or morphine overdose. Naloxone has an extremely high affinity for opioid receptors in the central nervous system. Naloxone is an opioid receptor competitive antagonist, and its rapid blockade of those receptors often produces rapid onset of withdrawal symptoms.


Narcotic: In the UK, a drug that causes drowsiness and insensibility, usually opiates, but also sedatives, hypnotics and alcohol. In the US the term is used to describe any addictive drug that is being used illegally, including cannabis and speed and is the subject of abuse.


Needle-fixation: A compulsion to use intravenously. Some commentators don’t credit it with much importance.


Opiate; Opioid: Drugs that are derived from or synthetic versions of the opium poppy.


Opium: Depressant drug extracted from the sap of the opium poppy. In this raw, unrefined state, the drug is widely used recreationally, though less so in the UK.


OTCs: (Over The Counter). Drugs that are available as medicines in pharmacies without a prescription.


Overdose: Strictly, an overdose is taking more than the suggested dose, whether of a medical drug or otherwise. So taking more than two paracetamol within the set time-frame would be an overdose. More usually, the term is used when there is an associated risk to health or even life. Many people overdose, but fatal overdoses are less common.

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Painkiller: a widely used lay-term for analgesics.


PCP: Phencyclidine, Angel Dust, a Disassociative anaesthetic.


PhenylEthylAmine: A massive family of drugs, which includes Ecstasy.


Polydrug use: The use of two or more drugs; usually assumes some interaction between the drugs.


POM: a Prescription-Only medicine. Only available from a pharmacy with a prescription.


Poppers: the street term for various alkyl nitrites taken for recreational purposes through direct inhalation, particularly amyl nitrite, butyl nitrite and isobutyl nitrite


Psilocybin: A chemical found in certain mushrooms, especially Liberty Caps (magic Mushrooms), a hallucinogenic compound similar in effect to LSD


Psychotherapist: Psychotherapists work with individuals, couples, families and groups to help them overcome a range of psychological and emotional concerns. With the client as an active participant, psychotherapists use personal treatment plans and a variety of non-medical-based treatments. A term often used interchangeably with Counsellor and Therapist.



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Rehab: Rehabilitation centre; there are many different types of rehabilitation centre offering different programs and environments.


Relapse: using a drug again after a period of being drug-free.


Rapid opiate detoxification: Rapid Detox is a fairly new phenomenon. It is the term used to describe an alternative method of removing drugs, usually opiates from the body. The rapid Detox process is generally conducted in a hospital setting. It is performed while the patient is under general anesthesia. Also referred to as rapid opiate Detox or ultra rapid Detox, it is an accelerated Detox for opiate-based substances. Drugs such as heroin, prescription medications, methadone and other narcotics require medically supervised Detox. A qualified anaesthesiologist and a nursing staff that specialises in such procedures most often oversee the process. While under anesthesia, the patient is administered medications that accelerate the physical reactions to the withdrawal process, which can last from 4 to 6 hours.


Residential treatment: see separate section

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Sedative: drugs that calm and soothe, relieving anxiety and nervous tension; may be Anxiolytic and/or hypnotic.


Sharps: contaminated surgical waste, in this context used injecting equipment.


Sleeping pills: drugs prescribed to encourage sleep; Hypnotics.


Solvents: a widely used term that denotes products that can be inhaled to achieve intoxication.


Speedballing: a popular term for the mixing of heroin or morphine with cocaine.


SSRI: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, family of antidepressant drugs which includes Prozac and act to increase levels of serotonin in the brain.


Stimulant: A drug that acts on the CNS, increasing some rates of function such as heart rate.


THC: Tetrahydrocannabinols; Active chemical compound found in cannabis plant.


Therapist: a person skilled in a particular type of therapy. A term often used interchangeably with Counsellor and Psychotherapist.


Tranquilliser: drugs that calm, soothe, relieve anxiety and may also cause drowsiness.




Volatile substances: a preferential term to solvents; in this context, a group of substances, which give off vapours that can be inhaled to achieve intoxication.


Withdrawal: The experience, which may be unpleasant, of a drug being cleared from the body, and the body adjusting to function without the drug. The best example is the withdrawal from heroin.