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Alcohol Glossary


Most Common Alcohol Terminology

Alcohol abusers are individuals who are unable to control their alcohol consumption, taking it too far. This is defined by the progression into drinking where the individual is aware of the damage they are causing to their own lives but feel unable to stop their consumption.

Abusers of alcohol will commonly find their drinking to become more frequent socially; this usually worsens into heavy drinking which often also occurs alone. Alcohol abusers will often find themselves facing legal issues such as DUIs and will usually cause some degree of harm to those around them, such as by having heated arguments with loved ones. Social drinkers can progress into alcohol abusers, before subsequently progressing into alcoholics.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) refers to the practice wherein individuals are encouraged to accept and embrace the thoughts and feelings they experience instead of fighting them or feeling guilty about their presence.

ACT therapy is a very powerful tool in addiction treatment, helping adults to better accept their present mental state and to ‘own’ their emotions in the moment. It is often used together with mindfulness meditation and further tools like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to help divorce a person from unhealthy associations and beliefs they have formed about themselves. This is particularly relevant and useful during the rehabilitation process.

The term addict is often used in varying ways when referring to addiction, but it is generally accepted as describing a person who repeatedly consumes drugs, alcohol or both and is unable to stop despite being fully aware of the negative impact it has on their health, wellbeing and the lives of those around them.

Addicts can be compelled to continue taking drugs and drinking alcohol for a variety of reasons including physical dependency, the avoidance of withdrawal symptoms and the alleviation of stress and depression from outside or internal sources. Addiction includes substances and activities such as gambling, sex and video games.

Addiction is generally defined by experts as being unable to have control over doing, taking or using something. This can include addiction to activities such as sex and gambling as well as drugs and alcohol. A key part of the definition of addiction is the inability to stop doing or using something despite being aware of the harm it will cause to you and possibly those around you.

Addiction can be caused by many things and is often influenced by traumatic events in childhood, such as sexual or physical abuse. Some people may be naturally more likely to become addicted to an activity or substance. Addiction is also more likely to occur in a new substance or behaviour if a person is addicted to another substance or behaviour – or has been in the past.

Al-anon is a worldwide fellowship group that provides support and recovery programmes for the families and friends of alcoholics. A key point of the Al-Anon group is that support is provided for adults who are struggling with alcohol addiction whether they are aware of the extent of their problem or not.

Al-anon is based upon the view that alcoholism is a family illness. It is designed to support the friends and relatives of alcoholics in an effort to change attitudes and enable recovery among the addicts themselves. Al-anon is not allied with any organisation, institution, sect or denomination and requires no dues for membership. It is maintained through voluntary contributions.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is an international fellowship organisation dedicated to helping its members to achieve and maintain sobriety from alcohol. It is self-supporting and not tied to any specific belief or political perspective. AA recovery is traditionally based on the “twelve-step” programme.

AA was founded in 1935 and continues today as a global nonprofessional fellowship. Key principles of Alcoholics Anonymous include the recommendation that members attempt to remain anonymous in public media and do their best to support and enable the recovery of other alcoholics, often through the concept of living a life “larger than themselves” in service of recovery.

Barbiturates are a type of synthetic drug which is often prescribed legally for the alleviation of insomnia, depression and anxiety. Known often as barbs, barbies and more, barbiturates have largely been replaced in modern medicine by benzodiazepine.

Barbiturate addiction was previously a widespread phenomenon in the UK due to the availability of the drug, but this has died down in recent years in the UK due to the reduction in the prescription of the substance and lack of availability of illegal equivalents. In the UK, barbiturates are only able to be sold by a pharmacy if the buyer requires them as part of a doctor’s prescription. They are a Class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

Behavioural addiction is a kind of addiction wherein a person is unable to control a compulsion to engage in certain types of behaviour, despite knowing the damage it is causing to their lives and the lives of others. It differs from drug and alcohol addiction in that there does not need to be a chemical substance which causes physical dependence.

Examples of behavioural addiction include gambling addiction, sex addiction, food addiction and video gaming addiction. Although it is difficult to pinpoint a specific cause of behavioural addiction, it is noted in academic research that individuals may engage in behavioural addiction patterns in an effort to alleviate anxiety, depression and the impact of past trauma.

Binge drinking refers to the consumption of large quantities of alcohol in a very short space of time. According to the NHS in the UK, binge drinking is categorised as consuming over eight units of alcohol in a single session for men, or six for women. Six units are equivalent to two pints of 5% beer or two large glasses of 12% ABV wine.

Binge drinking culture is a serious health issue in the UK, with most adults drinking over the NHS’ stated binge drinking amount several times a week. Binge drinking and the encouragement of heavy drinking in the workplace and in social circles contributes to the development of addiction and alcohol dependency in adults across the UK.

The biological model of addiction refers to the study of families and genetics and their contribution to addiction in adults. The biological model of addiction concludes that a person can inherit certain differences in their brain that make them more likely to form compulsive and addictive behaviours. Examples of this include specific genes like the A1 variant of the dopamine receptor gene which results in an adult having fewer dopamine receptors in the brain’s pleasure centre.

This makes the individual more likely to become addicted to drugs or certain activities such as sex or gambling because they have a deficiency of dopamine in normal life.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a form of goal-oriented psychotherapy. It is oriented around taking a practical and direct approach to problem-solving and the treatment of addiction. A key aspect of CBT is its aim to change the patterns of behaviour around a person’s difficulties and their self-belief and opinion about those difficulties.

CBT separates issues down into five categories: situations, thoughts, emotions, physical feelings and actions. It then provides a pragmatic, structured and collaborative approach to understanding difficulties through those categories. It is effective in stopping negative patterns and cycles of thought, which are common amongst individuals struggling with addiction and substance misuse.

Compulsive behaviours are defined as performing an action repeatedly, even if it leads to harm or provides no pleasure or reward. Examples of compulsive behaviour can include a compulsion to clean or bite one’s nails. In regard to addiction, compulsive behaviours can include the use of substances or engaging in acts like sex and gambling even though those acts are causing harm to the individual’s life and the lives of those around them.

Understanding compulsive behaviours and what leads to them is an integral part of recovery from addiction to drugs and alcohol and is something that is highlighted in the rehabilitation programmes of Help Me Stop.

Also referred to often as DTs, delirium tremens is a symptom of severe alcohol withdrawal. They often occur after long periods of heavy drinking and are characterised by sudden confusion and a shift in the manner in which the brain regulates breathing and blood circulation.

Delerium tremens can be life-threatening if not properly treated. Originally described in 1813 as a ‘brain fever’, DTs are understood to be experienced by approximately one in twenty people who go through alcohol withdrawal. Although the process of alcohol withdrawal and the symptoms experienced during it vary from person to person, it is generally understood that DTs are most likely to occur approximately 48 hours after the last drink is had, peaking at day four to five of withdrawal.

Denial plays an important role in enabling and sustaining addiction to drugs, alcohol and other activities like sex and gambling. Denial of the extent of a person’s issues and addiction is extremely common amongst addicts. This denial enables their behaviour and addiction, making it easier for them to justify their behaviour and to minimise the impact it has on them and those around them.

Denial is characterised by the selective ignoring and disregarding of information. In regard to addiction, denial is usually centred around the stubborn refusal to acknowledge the addict’s present situation and the severity of their addiction. Admitting the extent of their issues and accepting the need for help is often the first step in recovery for an addict.

Detoxification refers to the removal of toxins from a person’s body. While the word detox has more general use and connotation in everyday life, in addiction terms it refers to the time in which a person stays drug or alcohol-free. In this period, the body flushes out and processes any substances still in the body. In some cases, detox can be supported and made easier by the prescription of medication, particularly if the substance being detoxed from has physically addictive properties.

Detoxing can be dangerous and, in the case of certain substances including alcohol, fatal. It is critical that any person addicted to a substance seeks professional advice and support before attempting to detox.

The disease model of addiction is oriented towards the concept of addiction as a loss of control which is triggered by abuse of substances. Addiction is recognised medically as a chronic disease which a person must treat and manage throughout their lifetime. In the disease model, greater emphasis is placed on the abuse of drugs induced by chemical changes of the brain rather than conscious decisions.

This model or theory of addiction helps us to explain the fact that the disease of addiction is influenced also by social, psychosocial and biological factors.

Originally conceived by the creators of the 12 step Program, the term dry drunk is a phrase which describes a person who, although they are abstaining from alcohol, has not yet addressed the underlying issues that lead them towards drinking in the first place.

The term dry drunk is characterised by a lack of willingness, awareness or both in the understanding of psychological, genetic and social factors which can make a person more likely to drink and fall into physical dependency. As the name implies, a dry drunk is a person who is very likely to relapse repeatedly in the future.  

Enabling behaviour in addiction refers to a person who, usually in an effort to help a person fighting addiction, actually sustains their behaviour. Enabling behaviour is usually done via a lack of boundaries or understanding of the nature of addiction – or the process of recovery.

An example of enabling behaviour is a family member or parent who allows gives money to a loved one, despite knowing they are spending that money on drugs and alcohol. Enabling behaviour may have an element of manipulation performed by the addicted individual. Further examples include making excuses for the behaviour of the addict or keeping secrets on their behalf to preserve peace in the house or in social circles.

In-patient treatment is one of two main methods of providing rehabilitation treatment, with the other being outpatient treatment such as is used in the Dayhab and Digital Dayhab programmes provided by Help Me Stop.

Inpatient rehab refers to a programme where the individuals live in a closed environment or retreat. This type of treatment is more expensive and less able to fit around work and family life but does offer the advantage of isolating the individual away from social and environmental stressors and triggers during their rehabilitation. Traditional rehab programmes have tended towards the in-patient model, with outpatient models such as those pioneered by Help Me Stop proving more popular in the modern age.

Relapse refers to when an individual trying to conquer their addiction and life a substance-free life momentarily fails and uses drugs or alcohol once more. Relapses, while potentially damaging to the individual’s health and life, can happen occasionally and do not necessarily constitute a total failure in the individual’s efforts to beat their addiction.

Rehab programmes will spend a lot of time helping an individual to understand what factors and triggers lead them to relapse. By educating adults struggling with addiction on how relapses work and what causes relapse in them, they are empowered to live a life free from dependency on drugs and alcohol.

Residential treatment is a term used to describe live-in care facilities which are used in the treatment of addiction to drugs, alcohol and addictive behaviours such as sex, gambling and video game addiction. In residential treatments, a live-in facility is provided where the participant will stay at for varying amounts of time as they proceed through their rehabilitation programme.

Residential treatment is expensive but gives the individuals going through rehab a chance to separate themselves from the stressors and factors that may influence them towards relapse and continued abuse. It is important to note that residential treatment is not and should not be the first port of call and that rehabilitation services are viable and appropriate for milder stages of addiction and compulsive behaviour.

Substance abuse refers to the taking of drugs or alcohol too much in a manner that causes you harm. The harm your actions may apply to others is also relevant. It’s important to note that substance abuse can apply to a legally prescribed medicine as well as illegal drugs and alcohol.

It’s also important to note that substance abuse does not always constitute addiction. Many adults who abuse substances are not entirely addicted and have the capability to stop their substance abuse without severe withdrawal symptoms or other difficulties. By comparison, addiction is when an individual is completely unable to stop their use of drugs and alcohol – or any other addictive behaviour like gambling and sex.

The phrase ‘substance use disorder’ refers to patterns of behaviour. Specifically, it speaks to patterns of behaviour wherein a person will continue to consume a substance like drugs or alcohol or partake in behaviour like sex and gambling even though it is causing harm. These kinds of activities and substances activate the reward centre in the brain, giving the individual a sensation of pleasure.

Substance use disorders do not always involve drugs and alcohol. A substance use disorder may be the applicable term for a person who is unable to stop their consumption of tobacco or caffeine, for example. Generally speaking, the more sustained and long-term use of substances or activity to alleviate feelings of social anxiety, depression and more are what leads an individual into full-blown addiction.

A trigger refers to anything which, when encountered, makes a person feel a compulsion to consume drugs, alcohol or to engage in addictive behaviour they know will cause themselves harm. Triggers can vary drastically from person to person and are usually grounded in or related to something that has caused a strong reaction in the past, such as anxiety.

Identifying and learning to better understand triggers is one of the most fundamental aspects of a rehabilitation programme. While triggers may not be able to be eliminated from life entirely, rehab programmes and addiction therapy will seek to empower an individual to the point where they can plan their lives around their triggers and become more resilient against them when they are experienced.  

Withdrawal refers to the symptoms a person experiences when they stop using a substance, particularly one with addictive properties. Drugs and alcohol, when taken to excess, cause changes in brain chemistry that can persist beyond the ‘high’ of when the substance is taken. This can lead to discomfort and addictive compulsions when a person stops using that substance.

Withdrawal can, in some cases, be fatal. Alcohol withdrawal is an example of this. Some substances may have greater physical withdrawal symptoms, such as heroin and alcohol, whereas other substances like cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana can have emotional withdrawal symptoms. If you are considering going ‘cold turkey’ on a substance, it is important to consult a medical professional first so you can discuss potential withdrawal symptoms and their dangers.

Addictive personalities are a type of personality wherein an individual is more likely than others to develop an addiction to an activity or substance. It is important to note that addictive personalities can also apply to activities which do not cause harm, such as exercise. In terms of addiction, a person with an addictive personality is more likely to sustain the use of drugs and alcohol, which can lead to dependency and eventual addiction.

Addictive personalities are often related to mental conditions like anxiety and depression. The act of taking drugs and alcohol in these cases is often done as a coping mechanism, particularly in instances where there has been past trauma or a general difficulty to function amidst stressors and triggers in everyday life.

Alcohol poisoning is a dangerous condition where a person consumes an extreme amount of alcohol in a short space of time, resulting in a toxic amount accumulating in the system. Alcohol poisoning is extremely dangerous and, in some cases, fatal. It can permanently damage your health.

Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include general confusion, extremely slurred speech, a loss of coordination and irregular or slow breathing. Individuals with alcohol poisoning may also appear to have blue-tinged or pale skin and may be unresponsive but conscious. If you suspect someone is experiencing alcohol poisoning, it is critical you dial 999 to request emergency services immediately.

Although blackouts can occur from drug use, they are most commonly experienced as a result of heavy drinking and binge drinking. Blackouts are usually characterised as a period of amnesia in which a person is conscious but has no later memories of the events that transpire.

Blackouts occur during heavy binge drinking sessions and may be either fragmentary or ‘block’ in nature. In fragmentary blackouts, a person is able to recall some parts of a night, whereas a block blackout is, as the name implies, a complete lack of recollection of a period of drinking. It is difficult to see when a blackout is occurring because the individual will simply appear to be very drunk. Women are more susceptible to blackouts in general than men.