Part 4: Addiction Treatment Definitions—What Do All Those Terms Mean?

From ACOs and PHPs to accredited vs. licensed, we tackle the jargon to help you decode the lexicon

This is Part 4 in Treatment Magazine’s six-part guide on How to Find a Treatment Center. Future sections include: the stages of recovery and best practices for sustaining your recovery.

By William Wagner

When you or someone you care about starts treatment, you might feel like you have to learn a new language. And in many ways, you do. As with any medical topic, the field has its own lexicon for credentials and care approaches. Learning the key terms will help make it easier to navigate the treatment and recovery journey. Additionally, decoding the jargon can help you navigate your insurance options, says Teresa Garate, Ph.D., vice president, strategic partnerships and engagement, Gateway Foundation: “Learning  the terminology is important not only for ending stigma, but also for making sure that the services you receive are covered.”

Here’s a primer on some of the terminology you’ll encounter.

Learn the Credential Terms

Accredited: In order to become accredited, a treatment center has to go through a third-party evaluation that ensures it meets a standard of excellence in addiction care. Be wary of choosing a treatment center that isn’t accredited by either The Joint Commission or the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF).

Certified: If a center is certified, it exceeds the minimum standards for care. Certification requirements vary by state.

Licensed: A license means the treatment center has garnered the credentials to operate within a state. (Again, requirements vary by state.) In the case of personnel, being licensed means staff members have the educational credentials to treat patients suffering from addiction, such as a licensed alcohol and drug counselor (LADC) or a certified alcohol and drug counselor (CADC).

Master’s level therapist: As the term indicates, this level of therapist has a master’s degree or higher in mental health and is certified to operate a private practice but not to prescribe medication.

Psychologist: A psychologist has a Ph.D. or Psy.D. and is not credentialed to prescribe medication.

Psychiatrist: A psychiatrist has an M.D. and is credentialed to prescribe medication.

Psy.D.: A Psy.D. is a doctor of psychology—as opposed to a Ph.D., a doctor of philosophy. A Psy.D. isn’t a medical doctor and can’t prescribe medication or conduct medical treatments in most states.

Learning  the terminology is important not only for ending stigma, but also for making sure that the services you receive are covered.”—Teresa Garate, vice president, strategic partnerships and engagement for the Gateway Foundation

Learn the Treatment Terms

12 steps: Clinically referred to as 12-step facilitation therapy, this is the most commonly used treatment method. Patients work through each step to gain a deep understanding of their addiction and, in turn, how to live a life of abstinence. Two of the best known organizations using 12-step treatment are Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

Accountable Care Organization (ACO): As you delve into the insurance aspect of treatment, you’ll come across ACOs, which, among other things, coordinate the coverage for addiction care.

Aftercare: Once treatment is completed, a patient often enters a formal or informal aftercare program. It’s essentially a support system that might involve regular participation in a recovery organization and/or individualized treatment from a therapist specializing in addiction.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA): Founded in 1935, AA is the most prominent recovery organization, with a reach that touches about 180 countries. AA utilizes the 12 steps as its recovery model.

Detox: Detox typically occurs in a medical setting when a patient is suffering from severe withdrawal. It’s a cleansing of the system that lasts, on average, five to seven days and is often a prelude to treatment.

Evidence-based care: This type of addiction treatment is rooted in scientific research. There are numerous evidence-based options, ranging from behavioral approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

Faith-based treatment: The term speaks for itself. Faith-based treatment is a Christian-oriented route to conquering addiction that relies more on fellowship and spirituality than evidence-based methodologies.

Holistic treatment: Think meditation, yoga, acupuncture and massage therapy. A complement to traditional medical treatment, holistic therapies focus on healing the “whole person.”

Intensive outpatient program (IOP): One step below residential treatment, IOP typically calls for the patient to engage in long days of therapy at the center but to reside at home.

Intervention: If a family member, spouse or friend is dangerously out of control, an intervention might be required. The object is to carefully choose a private location where the substance abuser is surrounded by loved ones and possibly an addiction professional, and is encouraged to seek treatment.

Meetings: A tent post of recovery, meetings provide a nurturing, empathic community for people struggling with addiction. Meetings are a particularly important part of the AA model.

Opioid use disorder (OUD): This term gained resonance as opioid addiction grew into an epidemic over the past several years.

Outpatient: Someone whose illness isn’t severe enough for IOP is placed in an outpatient program. The patient undergoes regular addiction therapy at a treatment center, but the routine isn’t as rigorous as IOP.

Partial hospitalization program (PHP): This isn’t unlike IOP. Although the patient continues to sleep at home, the rest of the day is spent in a treatment setting.

Residential treatment center: With residential, the patient lives at the treatment center, generally for anywhere from 30 to 90 days. Being at the rehab center 24/7 provides the structure that is needed to avoid an immediate relapse.

Sober homes: Also called sober-living houses and sober-living environments, they enable people in recovery to ease their way back into “the wild.” Sober homes provide a structured living situation focused on helping residents get off to the healthiest possible start in their recovery.

Success rates: Also known as outcomes, success rates are difficult to measure. The addiction field lacks a universal ratings system, so you often have to rely on data for success rates—or conversely, relapse rates—from the individual treatment center. The quality and timeline of this data vary widely from center to center.

Trauma informed care (TIC): This therapy is predicated on the notion that a person’s addiction is a reaction to a trauma that occurred earlier in life, such as neglect or sexual abuse. By healing the underlying wound, addiction can be conquered.

For more terms and definitions, see Glossary.

Next in our six-part series on How to Find a Treatment Center is Part 5: Know the Stages of Recovery in the First Year—what to Expect. From avoiding the traps of the “honeymoon phase” to what to do when there is a relapse or recovery “slip,” we help guide you toward the goal of a positive treatment experience and healthy outcome.

Photo: Raphael Schaller