5 Key Terms Every Substance Abuse Counselor Should Know

Substance abuse counselors help people reclaim their lives after the devastating effects of drug or alcohol abuse have destroyed them. Treatment and recovery processes are complex, and a working knowledge of relevant terminology is one of the first things prospective counselors must achieve. Here are five key terms every substance abuse counselor should know.

1. Physical vs. Psychological Addiction

Drug or alcohol abuse often involves both psychological addiction and physical dependence, but it’s important to distinguish between the two in order to treat the problem effectively and safely. Physical dependence occurs when the body develops a tolerance to a specific drug. The physically dependent abuser suffers unpleasant or even dangerous physical symptoms of withdrawal if the drug is withheld. When the euphoric or aesthetic effects of a drug lead to psychological addiction, the sufferer develops a growing mental and emotional need to use the drug in order to feel good or maintain normal function.

2. Withdrawal Syndrome

When physical dependence is present, suddenly reducing or stopping an abused substance can trigger withdrawal syndrome, which involves a number of physical, mental and emotional symptoms that are related to chemical changes in the body. Depending on the type of substance abused and a variety of other factors, symptoms of withdrawal syndrome may include emotional distress, confusion, nausea, vomiting, sweating, tremors, seizures and even death. Management of withdrawal syndrome often involves inpatient or outpatient counseling in addition to lifesaving emergency care and ongoing medical or pharmaceutical support.

3. Opiate Antagonists and Agonists

Two types of medications are commonly used in treating additions to opioid drugs such as heroin and some prescription pain killers. Opiate antagonists are drugs that block the body’s opiate receptors. Because they prevent the user from experiencing the effects of an opiate, they can be used to help break an opiate addiction or counteract the effects of overdose. Examples of opiate antagonist drugs include buprenorphine, naltrexone, and naloxone. Opiate agonists such as methadone mimic the effects of other opiate drugs in the body without producing euphoria. Used in a treatment program, they are effective in reducing cravings and symptoms of withdrawal.

4. Substance Abuse Enabling

The phenomenon of substance abuse enabling is complex, and it’s one of the most important aspects of addiction. Enablers are people who unintentionally or unconsciously allow someone close to them to continue engaging in substance abuse without consequences. Examples of enabling behaviors include lying to cover an abuser’s absences from work, taking over an abuser’s neglected responsibilities, denying that a substance abuse problem exists, agreeing with an abuser’s rationalizations, or using a substance along with an abuser in an attempt to control the circumstances surrounding the usage.

5. Intervention

Substance abuse interventions are orchestrated attempts to encourage abusers to seek or accept help. Family members or friends can stage interventions on their own, or they can work with mental health professionals or substance abuse counselors. While nagging or enabling behaviors from individual loved ones usually make the situation worse, coming together as a family or group and communicating openly about a substance abuse problem can help motivate an abuser to accept that there is indeed a need for treatment. A well-planned intervention can be the first step to recovery for many abusers who live in denial.

You can learn more about substance abuse and related terminology online by visiting the National Institute on Drug Abuse or SAMHSA websites. To make a difference in the lives of people who are struggling with addition to drugs or alcohol, consider pursuing a rewarding career as a professional substance abuse counselor. Discuss degree requirements and options with your college or career education advisor.