Brief guidance on terms related to substance use, addiction, and treatment, and recovery


Behavioral Health

Behavioral health is a term that is used differently by different people. For us, “behavioral health” refers to a state of mental/emotional being and/or choices and actions that affect wellness. Behavioral health problems include risky substance use, serious psychological distress, suicide, and mental and substance use disorders.
Adapted from: SAMHSA

Harm reduction

Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug and alcohol use.
Adapted from: Harm Reduction Coalition


MAT is the use of medications, in combination with other therapies, to provide a whole-patient approach to the treatment of substance use disorders. Examples of medications are methadone and buprenorphine for opioid addiction, naltrexone and acamprosate for alcohol addiction, and nicotine replacement therapy for tobacco smokers who are addicted to nicotine.
Adapted from: SAMHSA


When a drug is eaten, inhaled, injected, or absorbed through the skin in excessive amounts and injures the body. Overdoses are either intentional or unintentional. Drug overdoses are the leading cause of injury death in the United States.
Adapted from: CDC

Prescription drug abuse

The use of a medication a) without a prescription and/or b) in a way other than as prescribed. Data indicate that prescription drug abuse has grown substantially in the last few decades. For example, overdose deaths from prescription drugs have tripled since 1990. Treatment admissions for prescription drug use quadrupled between 1999 and 2009.
Adapted from: NIDA


Risky substance use and addiction can be prevented. Prevention strategies include: screening, brief intervention, and perhaps referrals to treatment (SBIRT); messaging from parents, doctors, teachers, the media and others in the community to encourage healthy choices and discourage substance use; increasing taxes on tobacco and alcohol products; reducing the availability of non-medical prescription medications; and restricting advertising of addictive substances, particularly to young people.
Adapted from: CASAColumbia


There is no broadly agreed-upon definition of recovery from addiction. SAMHSA has constructed a working definition of recovery from addiction and mental health disorders, which is “a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential.” The recovery process is highly personal and occurs via many pathways. It may include clinical treatment, medications, faith-based approaches, peer support, family support, self-care, and other approaches.
Adapted from: SAMHSA

Risky Substance Use

Risky alcohol use is a term for a) any drinking by those who are pregnant, underage, operating machinery, or with a health condition adversely affected by alcohol; b) binge drinking, and c) heavy drinking. Risky alcohol use can result in harm to one’s health, interpersonal relationships, and ability to work. It can also lead an alcohol use disorder, although risky alcohol use is not the same as alcoholism. Guidelines for the safe use of illicit drugs have not been established. However, as with alcohol, risky drug use is not the same as having a substance use disorder, although it may also result in harm to one’s health, interpersonal relationships, and ability to work. And for some individuals, risky drug use leads to a substance use disorder.
Adapted from: CDC


Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) is an evidence-based approach to identifying people who use alcohol and other drugs at risky levels, with the goal of reducing and preventing related health consequences, disease, accidents and injuries. Anyone can do SBIRT, including medical professionals, human service providers, educators, and faith leaders.
Adapted from: SBIRT Colorado

Substance Use

Substance use is a multi-faceted phenomenon that encompasses a range of behaviors. People use substances for complex reasons. Substance use may be risky (e.g. teenage drinking, smoking while pregnant). It may lead to (or be a symptom of) a substance use disorder.
Adapted from: Harm Reduction Coalition


The American Psychiatric Association uses the term substance use disorder (SUD) to diagnose an unhealthy relationship with substances, including addiction. SUDs can be categorized as mild, moderate and severe. The symptoms associated with an SUD fall into four major groupings: impaired control, social impairment, risky use, and pharmacological criteria (i.e., tolerance and withdrawal). SUDs are treatable.
Adapted from: NIDA


Treatment is intended to help addicted individuals stop compulsive seeking and use of substances. Treatment can occur in a variety of settings, take many different forms, and last for different lengths of time. It may include both medications and counseling. Because addiction is typically a chronic disorder characterized by occasional relapses, a short-term, one-time treatment may not be sufficient.
Adapted from: NIDA