Recovery from Addiction Glossary

Recovery from Addiction Glossary

Recovery from Addiction Glossary

There are so many terms related to recovery and the language of recovery that this list should be of great help. Understanding the context of these terms can help you understand the meaning of recovery to an addict. Below you will find a glossary of recovery oriented language.

Abstinence-based recovery
A strategy based upon the complete and enduring cessation of the non-medical use of alcohol and other drugs.

Acts of Self-Care
Acts of self-care involve efforts to mend the damage done while addicted and the establishment of new health oriented habits. Acts of self care is not to be confused with self-centeredness (behavior demonstrated while using or drinking). Acts of self-care are acts of responsibility.

Acts of Service (Unpaid)
Acts of service are done for their intrinsic value and not for profit or the hope of profit or recognition. Acts of service provide the recovering addict with an authentic connection to others.

Alcoholics Anonymous
A voluntary, worldwide fellowship of men and women from all walks of life who meet together to attain and maintain sobriety.

Making amends is the repaying of literal or symbolic debts and harms accrued during addiction. This process opens one to the potential for atonement and forgiveness. Amends are made directly except when to do so would injure others.

In 12 Step programs versus other recovery programs, the principles state that-- who one sees at meetings and what one hears at meetings stays at that meeting. 12 Step programs are based upon the belief that personalities take a back seat to the well-being of a meeting and that it is attraction that propels the life of a 12 Step group rather than someone's name.

Character Defects

Character defects are traits that usually were developed early and served the addict and alcoholic as a means of survival. These defects may have been exacerbated during the development of the addiction.12 Step programs list the seven deadly sins such as pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth. These include instincts gone astray with sex, power, money, recognition, self-centeredness, self-pity, intolerance, jealousy, and resentment. Any one or a combination of these character defects are considered triggers that can lead to a relapse.

Chips and Medallions

Some 12 Step programs mark abstinence with chips or key chains. These symbolize the number of days lived totally abstinent from alcohol or drugs. They reaffirm one's commitment to the recovery program. At the end of a year and every consecutive year after the first, a metal medallion with the symbol of the 12 Step program is presented to the member who is celebrating the completion of another year. Each medallion has a number reflecting the number of years clean and sober.

Controlled drinking

Many alcoholics who have come to an awareness that they struggle with alcohol have turned to controlled drinking. Perhaps the alcoholic will drink only after 5PM or perhaps he or she will drink only on the weekends. For many in AA, this controlled drinking did not relieve them of their addiction. Perhaps it took several years, but many have testified in the rooms to a return to uncontrollable drinking. Others have maintained their controlled drinking but were left angry and disappointed. The amount of effort, both emotional and physical, that is required to control one's drinking can become all-consuming. AAs belief is that abstinence is the healthiest approach to living a sober life. If you do not pick up a drink, you cannot get drunk.


In the 12 Step rooms of recovery, there is a rule against what is known as crosstalk. The meetings are based upon the principle that each individual can share in total safety without others interrupting or responding directly to what is being shared. Any response is to be in the form of identification and personal experience.


Alcoholics Anonymous does not believe there is a cure for alcoholism. Instead, the 12 Step concept promotes continuing abstinence and emotional sobriety as the remedy for alcoholic drinking. To make the program manageable, it is based upon the idea that each day is a new beginning, a daily reprieve from the disease of alcoholism.

Defects of character

When an addict or alcoholic works the 12 Steps of the program, he or she eventually needs to look at those character traits which have been overly developed and thus have become defects of character. This process is to help the alcoholic or addict regain or gain, balance in his/her life. Addressing a "self will run wild" allows the addict to seek release from self destructive behaviors.


The program of AA, etc. allows a person to fully experience his or her life without drugs and alcohol. This concept is not seen as deprivation. It is a liberation from the bondage of addiction. The 12 Step program allows one to continue to work on personal growth developing new friends, new horizons, and new attitudes. The Steps allow one to develop coping skills that were not possible while drinking or drugging.

Disease Concept

After several decades of scientific research, addiction is now viewed as a disease of the body and mind. The original AA Big Book had an introduction by Dr. Silkworth who described the addiction to alcohol as an allergy. In this regard, the disease concept takes the role of weakness out of the picture. It allows people suffering from addiction to accept that they have a medical problem that must be addressed and that it is not just about being a bad person.


A person who while in a meeting shares only about his or her drinking history in a way that seems to glorify the past without a real focus on hitting a bottom and the path through recovery. Sharing of one's story is of great significance but there is an expression which defines the structure of what the monologue should cover: Tell what it was like (the progression of the addiction), how you got here (hitting a bottom and seeking recovery), and what it is like now (how life has changed since entering recovery).

Dry Drunk

When a person stops drinking and moves into abstinence without the other aspects of recovery such as working the steps, self-reflection with the goal of change, making amends, taking a daily personal inventory, etc. This person has not addressed the underlying issues which led to alcohol taking a prominent place in his or her life. Generally when a person who is an alcoholic stops drinking but does nothing to change, the character defects are magnified. Intolerance, anger, resentments, grandiosity, and jealousy become more prominent resulting in a continuing unhappy alcoholic who is not drinking.

Eleventh Step Groups

The 11th Step of the AA or NA program is seeking to improve a conscious contact with God as we understood him. This step is a very personal step leaving the addict or alcoholic to define God in any way he or she feels comfortable. For some, it is a traditional Judeo-Christian God, for others it is a universal source or it is a Higher Power that may remain undefined. For some it is the group of drug addicts or alcoholics who provide each other the strength to stay clean and sober one day at a time. This step is a reflection of the spiritual underpinnings of the 12 Step program. Sometimes, AA or NA or other 12 Step programs will have specific meetings dedicated to the 11th Step and the seeking of a spiritual power greater than oneself.

Emotional Sobriety

Bill Wilson, one of the co-founders of the original AA program, coined the phrase "emotional sobriety" to describe a state of emotional health that exceeds merely being abstinent from alcohol, drugs or other addictive behaviors.

Faith-based Recovery

These are recovery programs based upon a framework of religious experiences, beliefs, and rituals that are used as alternatives for regular addiction treatment. Those faith based programs that incorporate medical best practices and therapeutic environments have better outcomes than those that rely solely upon the concept of faith.

Family Disease

Addiction is known as a family disease and as a result, many addiction treatment facilities will offer a family program to address the dysfunction within the family structure, issues of enabling, codependency and other addictions.

Family Recovery

Family recovery is based upon the belief that addiction is a family disease. According to White's studies, family recovery entails three dimensions: Healing family members, that achieving recovery is dependent upon setting healthy boundaries, and developing healthy family systems (adult intimacy needs, parent-child and sibling relationships). Research demonstrates that individual recovery must take place before family recovery can occur.

Getting the Program

When a person walks into the rooms of AA or NA, etc. he or she is usually confused, frightened, or ashamed. One day at a time the language of the program, the stories shared, and the kindness of members all infiltrate the new comer's psyche. Slowly, while listening, a new awareness begins to arise. If a person doesn't pick up a drink or a drug (or engage in any other addictive behavior) then that person will not get drunk or high. It can take some people multiple relapses before they understand this basic reality of the program. Other times people "get it" the first time and never go out again. Sadly, there are those people who are too caught up in guilt, shame, and blame, who are "unconstitutionally incapable of being honest". In these cases they will experience a revolving door – they will be in the rooms for a time and thenback out using again. That is the first step: "surrender". After that, the alcoholic and addict must do a thorough house cleaning of his or her life. Clear out the anger, resentments, the disappointments, the guilt, and allow a new way of thinking and living to replace the old way.

Give It Away to Keep It

Only by helping others suffering from addiction can the recovering addict or alcoholic maintain what has been given to him or her in recovery.

God of our Understanding

When the Big Book was written, there was great discussion about approaching the spiritual nature of the AA program. It was determined that a God of our understanding was broad enough to encompass all people's understanding. The point was to move the alcoholic from self will to asking for help and a development of a spiritual reality that he or she did not run the world, make the oceans move, or rotate the moon around the earth. On the AA website, the literature states: "we could conceive of the Power in any terms we thought fit".


It is of the utmost importance that meetings be safe for all those who share. The human tendency for gossip is frowned upon as it is considered "character assassination". Many things can trigger a person to use—gossip is one of those triggers. The members of AA believe that gossip is dangerous and destructive. It is the antithesis of the principles which guide living in AA.


The Grapevine is the AA Fellowship's principle magazine. It is the international monthly journal of Alcoholics Anonymous. The Grapevine offers 250-300 new stories each year. The Grapevine demonstrates how the 12 Step program works through people's stories that speak directly to what it was like, what happened, and what it is like now in recovery.


Gratitude is the ability to be thankful for the gifts that one has in one's life. Gratitude helps the recovering addict or alcoholic develop humility (not to be confused with humiliation) and a willingness to give it away.

High Bottom Recovery

Low bottom addicts are those who have found their way into recovery after suffering major social, economic, physical, and familial loss. High bottom recovery refers to the addict or alcoholic who enters recovery after having a breakthrough awareness before losing everything of value in their life.

Higher Power

Every addict or alcoholic has given power to a substance or an action, etc. The 12 Steps are founded upon a concept of a power greater than self that can restore the addict to sanity. It is referred to as "God as we understood Him". While some groups make definitive statements about what that Higher Power may be, the program leaves it open to personal definition. A "power greater than ourselves" can be the group, a God, or the universe. The goal is to move the addict out of isolation and into a community and focus on that which is in his or her personal power to change.

Hitting Bottom

Hitting bottom is the last phase one experiences before entering recovery. As discussed earlier, it can be a high bottom or a low bottom. Recovery doesn't usually occur until a person hits a personal bottom and has an awareness that addiction has taken over his or her life. It is based upon awareness and a willingness to let go.

Home Group

It is recommended in 12 Step programs that the addict or alcoholic attend meetings regularly. It is also recommended that the addict or alcoholic find a home group to serve as his or her grounding group. It is a place where others can get to know the addict, where absences will be noted and changes in attitude can be addressed. Having a home group can provide the addict or alcoholic with additional support during extreme life circumstances to help prevent relapse.


Humility in the recovery community allows one to change, to admit wrong doing, to take personal responsibility, to develop principles and a standard for living a healthy honest life. Humility enables the addict and alcoholic to ask for help from a Higher Power, the group, a sponsor, or a health care professional when help is needed. Relying entirely upon one's self is dangerous and ego driven.


Interventions are based upon a confrontation done either by fellow addicts, family members or professionals that are aimed at getting the addict to admit his or her addiction and the need for help.

Keeping It Green

After a while life changes for the better. The chaos and confusion that surrounds active addiction fades away. But, as one's life gets better, the addict or alcoholic runs the risk of forgetting who they once were and what that life was like. By keeping it green, the addict and alcoholic keeps the reality that addiction can destroy the progress made in a terrifyingly short period of time.


AA World Service and the General Service Office are responsible for the printing and approval of all AA related literature. AA literature means that the governing committees have approved the literature as formally AA literature. There are many substance abuse publications which are not AA approved literature, but that does not mean the publications are bad, it means for one reason or another some outside concept is being promoted and that AA cannot lend its name to that piece of literature. AA approved literature is printed by the governing committee. Items such as the Big Book, the Twelve and Twelve, As Bill Sees It, Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, and pamphlets and other publications are AA approved literature. A complete list of AA approved literature can be found on the Alcoholics Anonymous website.

Low Bottom Recovery

Those addicts or alcoholics who loose everything including their health, but who do come into recovery.


The 12 Step program and other self help programs that are similar to the 12 Step program rely upon the concept that a group of like minded individuals sharing honestly and openly about their experiences, strengths, and hopes can help keep each other sober and clean. In 12 Step programs there are a variety of formats: speaker meetings, open discussion meetings, step meetings, gender specific meetings, closed meetings (only addicts or alcoholics), and Big Book study groups.


In recovery there are no dues or fees for membership. AA (or other groups founded upon the structure of AA) is open to anyone with a desire to stop drinking. There are no criteria other than a desire to stop drinking. Age, race, economic condition, educational background, and career status have nothing to do with acceptance into 12 Step rooms. An alcoholic is one who cannot stop drinking on his or her own, and who has entered the rooms of AA in search of a better life and ways to stay sober for today.

New Comer

In the 12 Step programs of AA etc., a person who is trying to stop using and drinking and has recently started attending meetings is considered a new comer. Great emphasis is placed upon making the new comer feel welcomed as the program works by helping each other stay clean and dry.

Ninety meetings in ninety days

The 12 Step program of AA and other off shoots of Alcoholics Anonymous are based upon suggestions for recovery. Over the years, recovering addicts have found certain suggestions to be beneficial to new comers. It is suggested that someone new to recovery and the 12 Step program would benefit from attending at least one meeting a day for ninety days. The rationale for the suggestion is based upon changing behavior, listening at meetings and learning about the program, how people share, and how people manage their lives one day at a time.

Normal Drinker

Once alcohol has taken over and dependence has developed, a person can no longer be considered a normal drinker. For those who suffer from alcoholism, drinking leads to uncontrollable drinking, unlike those people who can order a drink, take a sip and be done.

Old Timers

AAs (and other 12 Step programs), mark the passage of time living clean and sober. It is a reminder for those who are new in the program that a new way of life is possible without picking up a drink, a drug, or any other addictive behavior. Old timers are those who have put together substantial periods of clean and sober time. Usually the phrase applies to people with a substantial number of years whether 20, 25, or 30 years. The old timers carry a simple message: don't drink, don't pick up, go to meetings.

Open meeting

Each meeting will be characterized by the type. An open meeting means that anyone wishing to attend an AA meeting may attend an open meeting as compared to a closed meeting which is designated for members of AA only.


The 12 Steps are based upon the concept that if we pick up a drink or a drug (or whatever thing we are addicted to) that we become powerless to it. We learn in recovery that all of our attempts to control addiction ended up in failure and that indeed we were powerless. The admission helps develop a strong level of acceptance of the absolute need for abstinence. Step One: We admitted we were powerless of alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable. One can substitute anything in place of the word alcohol.


Prayer can take many forms in the 12 Step program. It is a process through which we make spiritual communication with something greater than ourselves.

Primary purpose

Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.

Principles of AA

The 12 Step programs are based upon action steps which will relieve the alcoholic from the obsession to drink, change those character flaws (defects) which drive the alcoholic to make bad decisions, and to repair the damage created while he or she was out drinking or drugging. These steps are based upon principles through which a recovering individual can live life on a daily basis. These principles are the concepts behind each step. In order of the steps the principles are:

  • Surrender
  • Hope
  • Commitment
  • Honesty
  • Truth
  • Willingness
  • Humility
  • Reflection
  • Brotherly Love
  • Justice
  • Perseverance
  • Spiritual Awareness
  • Service


In 12 Step programs recovery is based upon working the program. The concept is an all inclusive approach to living life with the principles expressed in the 12 Steps, as well as using the support systems used in the rooms such as sponsorship, attending meetings, doing service, and using the slogans.

Program of Suggestions

While some mistakenly believe there are rules in AA, everything promoted in the program and literature should be taken as a suggested way to stay clean and sober. What works for one person may not work for another. That is why a good deal of self exploration is advised. However, the suggestions are based upon thousands of individual experiences with the struggle to stay sober and live a healthy, productive, honest life. The path to sobriety is well worn.


The 12 Step programs contain promises in the literature that help the addict and alcoholic believe that the painstaking work done in the steps and the program can and will produce freedom and happiness. "We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.


In some meetings when a person shares his or her story it is referred to as a qualification. There are no criteria which must be met to qualify. Each person's story is unique and yet each story provides listeners with the opportunity to identify with the feelings behind addictive behavior. The qualification usually is defined by: how it was, what brought the person into recovery, and how it is now in recovery. Such stories offer listeners hope that through adversity recovery may be maintained.


The term recovery refers to what is implied by doing the Steps and the program. If we take the path followed by those who came before us, then there is a good chance that a person will gain or regain his or her sense of self again, rebuild family ties or create new ones and learn to live in a manner that is healthy, life affirming and self productive. Profound healing can take place in the rooms. White refers to it as "reaching back and reaching forward", as it frees us from past behaviors with understanding the role it played in our present development, while reaching forward toward the future and the desire to continue to grow as a human being.

Recovery Home

A self funded communal living environment for people in early recovery. There are a variety of recovery homes, some credible and some not.


When one has detoxed from drugs, alcohol or other addictive substances and then returns to using again.


12 Step programs are based upon the concept that if you do not pick up the first drink you will not get drunk. The drink or drug is only a symptom of what was underlying the addiction. Each day is a new beginning, and each day without using or drinking is a reprieve from the sickness that surrounds addictive behaviors.


Personal responsibility is the basis for recovery. The addict accepts accountability for his or her past, present and future actions. It is no longer reasonable to blame others for the decisions and actions we take.

Service Committees

Members of the 12 Step programs engage in services to help others in a specific room or in the organization at large.


When people gather in a meeting they generally have a discussion. During the discussion portion of the meeting, individuals will share on the topic of that meeting: gratitude, anger, sponsorship, negative thinking, etc. It is through sharing and listening that addicts and alcoholics learn to identify with others' life struggles and learn that there are similarities within the context of addiction for all who engage in recovery.


There is disagreement about whether there is a difference between a slip and a relapse. For those that define them differently, a slip is a short period of time during which drugs and alcohol use has resumed. A relapse is considered more serious than a slip as it indicates a longer time of using again.


The slogans are short sayings that are the tools for living a sober and clean life, such as: Each Day a New Beginning; Easy Does It; Live and Let Live; First Things First. These slogans and many more enable the addict to slow down and think things through. They remind the addict about the present.

Sobriety Date

In the 12 Step programs addicts and alcoholics mark their sobriety or clean date from the day of last use. From there the addict continues to count days and then years to mark time. This is a symbol that the program works and that abstinence and personal growth are possible. Sometimes alcoholics will stop drinking and have a sobriety date but will be addicted to opiates. Thus there can be two different dates or a new start date from the last drink or drug. For many, the term abstinence includes all drugs and alcohol. Generally, if a person is counting years of sobriety but is still smoking marijuana, some argue that person is not clean and therefore not truly sober.

Spiritual Awakening

The process of recovery is slow. As the addict moves through an honest self-reflection, admitting defects of character and making amends, he or she will experience a new awareness of self, of life, of humility, or spiritual practices. This is known as a spiritual awakening.

Spiritual health

Upon having a spiritual awakening, the addict and alcoholic can experience a sense of ease, serenity, or peace though crisis may be unfolding. Only through maintaining a strong spiritual connection to something greater than self, can one gracefully move through difficult and joyous times in a healthy life affirming manner.


Sponsorship is the practice of mentorship in the 12 Step programs. The people in 12 Step recovery programs believe that mentoring a new comer can help both the new comer and the recovering alcoholic stay connected to the rooms, help them overcome their fear, guilt, shame, or other emotions. Leading a new comer through the steps, guiding them in their ability to stay away from a drink or a drug one day a time, strengthens the new comers program as well as the sponsors program. Service is a cornerstone of AA and by giving back and helping another suffering alcoholic, we help ourselves.


Each person who enters the 12 Step rooms whether AA, NA, CA etc. comes with his or her story. That story will be shared from time to time in a speaker/discussion closed meeting. AA is founded on the concept that identification of issues defining a person's story can help each member stay clean and sober. Without the sharing of stories, there can be no recovery.


To surrender is to acknowledge without reservation that one has an addiction and that help is needed. Furthermore, the addict admits that his/her willpower accomplished nothing. There is strength in admitting powerlessness over certain things and in admitting one needs help.

Switching Addictions

It is not unusual for a person to enter AA, for example, give up drinking, work the 12 Steps, but then transfers the addiction to some other negative, self destructive behavior (perhaps over indulging in food, gambling, sex, pornography, and work). An addict must be on guard for loosing the sense of balance previously obtained. If the underlying reasons for the addictive behavior have not been addressed, then the behavior will return in another form.

Thirteenth Stepping

There are 12 Steps in the 12 Step program, when people speak of 13th stepping they are referring to one member of the group, usually one with more time, going after a new member of the group generally ending in a sexual involvement. For that reason, it is advised that men mentor men and women mentor women.

Tolerance and open-mindedness

Bill Wilson, one of the founding fathers of AA, believed that tolerance and open-mindedness were of extreme importance in the longevity of the 12 Step program and in one's life. He abhorred dogma and strict rules understanding that what worked for one might not work for another. Change had to be looked at closely. Even as an institution, he felt AA should do a close self evaluation and inventory. He also believed that mental health professionals should be utilized as part of the recovery process when needed. Indeed, he was the first to acknowledge that sometimes AA cannot provide the alcoholic everything that is needed to help one cope with the issues in life.


People use a variety of "tools" to help them stay clean and sober on a daily basis. It is understood that each day is different, and that emotions and circumstances are not permanent. The steps, sponsorship, meetings, sharing, slogans, the literature and service are the methods used to stay clean and sober on a daily basis.


The principles that guide the functioning of AA or NA, the organization, and the meetings are based upon the 12 traditions. The founding traditions state that each group is autonomous, with long term elected leaders, group consensus in governing, anonymity, self promotion not advertising, service, non-affiliation, respect, and financial independence through contributions of members.


Staying clean and sober involves negotiating stressors or triggers in one's life. Triggers are those issues, emotions, places or people that are associated with drinking or drugging. When these triggers arise, the person in recovery must be prepared to handle them in a different way. If triggers are not addressed in treatment or in the rooms with other recovering addicts, the chance of relapse increase.

Trusted Servants

AA is a voluntary organization. Each group has a rotating steering committee which helps with the ongoing business of the group. These positions can change every month, every three months or whatever is determined by that specific group. There are chairpersons who lead each specific meeting, secretaries who are responsible for availability of literature, treasurers who are responsible for donating to AA World Service or General Service Office, and for paying the rent. There may be an intergroup representative as well. All these positions are temporary. Delegates to the General Service Conference serve no longer than two years.

Twenty-four hour plan

Thinking about never having a drink again can be overwhelming. But, if the alcoholic breaks down the time in 24 hour increments, or smaller if needed, then that reality can be easier to manage. AA does not make blanket statements: "I will never drink again" as that would set them up for possible failure. Instead, AA says, "I will put it off till tomorrow". And then again, the next day should the problem persist, "I will put off drinking until tomorrow". Eventually, the urge to drink will pass.


The 12 Step fellowships are based upon the common principle of unity. The goal is to keep each suffering alcoholic or drug addict who enters the room clean and sober. The program works because of unity of a single purpose.


The 12 Step program is based upon the belief that if one is willing to ask for help, to recognize and seek help from a power greater than self, listen and learn, reflect upon his or her life with complete honesty, make amends, change those character traits which are defective and more, then life can become something beyond one's wildest dreams. But for all of the promises of the program to become a reality, one must be whole heartedly willing to change and to give up self will. That sense of willingness can open one to a life of fulfillment.

Working the steps

It is recommended, though not required, that a new comer work the steps. The steps are a comprehensive way to look at our individual lives, address our past behavior, evaluate our present behavior, and a way to make a spiritual connection. Generally, the addict or alcoholic will go through the steps or work the steps (as it is called), doing the exercises connected to each step under the guidance of a sponsor. There are step meetings that explore each step in depth and how that step is worked. Many alcoholics seem to revisit the steps every few years. Once the alcohol or drug is removed from the body and mind, and once the alcoholic is living life on life's terms, a deeper understanding of personal behavior will be revealed. Working the steps over again at different phases in recovery allows one to continue to change. There is no one way to do the steps, just suggestions.