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Vocabulary 101: Definition of Most-Used Recovery Terms


Sober Recovery Expert Author

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Here is a collection of commonly used recovery terms that will help you and your loved ones understand more about addiction and recovery.


When focusing on recovery, the most effective programs do not encourage “moderation.” For most addicts, using in moderation is not something that they are capable of. This is why abstinence, refraining from using any substances at all, is key to maintaining sobriety.

Know the lingo and meaning behind these popular words in recovery.


When does drug or alcohol use turn into an addiction? Well, an addiction is actually a disease, which causes individuals to consume substances, despite the negative consequences. These consequences range from health issues to financial loss to broken relationships to jail time.

An addiction is a chronic, relapsing illness, which is driven by neurochemical changes in the addict’s brain. This creates a physical dependence, which can lead to symptoms of withdrawal in recovery.


Alcoholism is a disease spawned from alcohol dependence. It creates strong cravings to drink and continue with one's drinking routine, despite the problems it is causing in one’s life. An alcoholic may lose their job and custody of their children but still continue to drink.


Codependency focuses on the excessive partnership in which two people experience. It is typically defined by psychological and emotional attachment, especially when focusing on a partner that is struggling with addiction.

In many cases, the codependent individual will become so wrapped up in their partner's sense of self that they lose their own. They become consumed by the other person's problems and personal identity. In many cases, this dynamic can be very damaging.


Addiction is full of compulsive behaviors. Compulsion is when someone acts on impulse, often acting irrationally. This is because an action is performed, based on an impulse. Although this is common within addiction, it is often seen in psychiatric conditions such as OCD.

Delirium Tremens

Also referred to as DTs, this disorder occurs when an individual stops drinking alcohol after a period of heavy consumption. This is dangerous, as alcohol is one of the only substances that can be fatal during symptoms of withdrawal.

These symptoms are often associated with increased blood pressure, heightened temperature, rapid pulse, psychosis and seizures. If you are suffering from alcoholism, it is recommended that you withdraw under medical supervision due to this possibility.


Denial is a large component of addiction as addicts often make every excuse to keep using. In order to seek treatment, you must recognize that there is a problem. Many addicts hit rock bottom but still deny that they need help. They deny that there is a problem, they deny how severe their condition is and they deny that treatment is necessary.

Basically, denial is a form of dishonesty. It is continually refusing that something is true. An addict may be told time and time again by their family members that they need help but denial can hinder their progress. Until they actively seek help themselves and understand that there is a problem, an addict will continue to be consumed by addiction.

Dual Diagnosis

Dual diagnosis is when an addict not only experiences a substance abuse disorder, but a co-occurring mental health condition and other DSM V issues. Some of the most common conditions are depressive disorder and anxiety disorder, which cause people to self-medicate. Many treatment centers now focus on treating both conditions simultaneously, in order to achieve long-term sobriety.


Enabling is a term that is often brought up in both individual and family therapy. It means that you react to a person, protecting them from the full impact of their choices. As an enabler, you shield a loved one from the full consequences of their behaviors.

This is much different than helping or adding support, as enablers only hinder recovery. It may not be intentional but enabling an addict shows that you permit their irresponsible actions. A prime example is giving money to an addict when you know that they'll spend it on drugs or alcohol.

An enabler may also keep secrets in order to protect the addict, make excuses for their behavior, blame others, bail them out of jail, ignore the problem and more. As long as you are enabling an addict, they will be more likely to avoid recovery.


ESH stands for “Experience, Strength and Hope.” This is an inspirational slogan that is expressed during the 12-step program.

Functional Alcoholic

Functional alcoholics are individuals that can function while masking their disease. They can wake up, drink and maintain a certain level of alcohol in their system while taking part in regular activities. These are people that function in society while under the influence of alcohol.

Since many of these individuals go to work while intoxicated, they generally have someone enabling them. Whether it's a relative bringing them to work, a co-worker covering for them or a boss that allows them to drink, this can only go on for so long.


According to Hazelden, an intervention is "a deliberate process by which change is introduced into peoples' thoughts, feelings and behaviors. The overall objective of an intervention is to confront a person in a non-threatening way and allow them to see their self-destructive behavior, and how it affects themselves, family and friends."


In broad terms, this means to return to an original state. When focusing on addiction, recovery entails that an individual gradually heals and moves away from addictive behaviors. For many addicts, recovery means a life-long journey. They spend the rest of their lives working towards or maintaining recovery. The importance of doing so can mean life or death.


The term sponsor originates from Alcoholics Anonymous. When you first enter the 12-step program, you will be encouraged to get a sponsor. This is an individual that has been where you have been and can provide guidance and support. These sponsors will have maintained their sobriety for an extended period of time and a strong understanding of the AA program inside and out.

As you go through the process of recovery, make your own list of terms. If possible, keep a journal or diary of these glossary terms to serve as a reminder. You can even bring your journal to therapy if it helps you express what you're feeling. Knowledge is always your first line of defense.

Toni Young is a behavioral health consultant for ActionRehab.org. She is also a current faculty member of the Association of Addiction Professionals, NAADAC. Toni is a strong proponent of dual diagnosis treatment, integrated healthcare, recovery oriented systems of care and trauma-informed co-morbid services.

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