Understanding Addiction Language

Understanding Addiction Language

Understanding opioid use disorders can be confusing and complicated.  

We sat down with Kristin Cain, PhD, LCMHC, CCS, to learn more about the terminology, medication and approaches to treatment for Medication-assisted Treatment, or MAT. As SouthLight’s Senior Director of Operations, Dr. Cain has been working on removing the stigma associated with Medication-assisted Treatment (MAT) and expanding access to care.   

Dr. Cain shares these definitions from an upcoming presentation to NCATOD. Here are some key terms and definitions in our ABC’s of MAT.  

The ABC’s of Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)


Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences. It is considered a brain disorder because it involves functional changes to brain circuits involved in reward, stress, and self-control. 


A substance that initiates a physiological response when combined with a receptor.


A chemical substance that binds to and blocks the activation of certain receptors on cells, preventing a biological response.


Buprenorphine is a prescribed drug that helps individuals reduce opioid cravings as well as pain.  


Community refers to relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope. 

Community Support Team (CST):

Offers a community-based multidisciplinary team for those struggling with participation in traditional outpatient services. The team consists of Licensed, Associate, Qualified Professionals and Addictions Specialty staff, who work with the member, to gain the fundamentals of recovery (housing, employment, stability, community and skills). 


A medicine or other substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body.

Evidence-Based Practices:

An evidence-based practice (EBP) is a method, approach, or clinical intervention that has been scientifically researched and tested over a span of time and has consistently proven that it is effective and brings about positive outcomes. SouthLight uses evidence-based practices.


Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. It is a major contributor to fatal and nonfatal overdoses in the US. 

Harm Reduction: 

Harm reduction is an evidence-based philosophy and a set of strategies focused on providing skills, resources, and information to folks who use substances without requiring them to be fully abstinent in order to access those supports. Harm reduction strategies are designed to improve well-being while decreasing the likelihood of overdose as well as other negative consequences. 

Medication Assisted-Treatment (MAT): 

Traditional term used for methadone/buprenorphine/naltrexone, the medications prescribed to treat members who are diagnosed with opioid use disorder. Medication is one part of a multi-pronged treatment approach to treating opioid use disorders (OUD) or other substance use disorders.

Medications for Opioid Use Disorders (MOUD): 

A newer term that refers specifically to the use of medications to treat members diagnosed with opioid use disorders, with or without the inclusion of additional treatment approaches.


Methadone is considered the gold standard medication to treat Opioid Use Disorder (OUD). Methadone is a long-acting full opioid agonist and a schedule II-controlled medication that can only be dispensed through a SAMHSA-certified OTP. 

Naloxone (or Narcan)

Approved by the Food and Drug Administration, it is designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. The reversal is temporary and is to be followed by medical intervention as soon as possible. It is an opioid antagonist—meaning that it binds to opioid receptors to reverse and block the effects of other opioids, such as heroin, morphine, and oxycodone. It can be administered via intranasal spray (into the nose), intramuscular (into the muscle), subcutaneous (under the skin), or intravenous injection. 

Partial Agonist: 

A chemical substance that binds a cell receptor but only partially activates it

Person-Centered Treatment:

A person-centered approach means focusing on the elements of care, support and treatment that matter most to the patient, their family and caretakers. So before even thinking about measuring, the priority is to identify what is most important to them, without making assumptions. 

Peer Support:

Certified Peer Specialists (CPSS) offer shared and lived life experiences in mental health and substance use recovery as they walk alongside individuals on their recovery journey. 

Opioid Use Disorder (OUD): 

Opioid use disorder (previously known as opioid abuse or opioid dependence) is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a “problematic pattern of opioid use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.” 


A process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential

Trauma-Informed Care:

Trauma-informed care (TIC) is an approach in the human service field that assumes that an individual is more likely than not to have a history of trauma. Trauma-informed care recognizes the presence of trauma symptoms and acknowledges the role trauma may play in an individual’s life- including service staff.

If you or someone you know is grappling with opioid addiction, help is within reach. Learn how SouthLight can guide you toward a path of healing, recovery, and renewal.  

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Kristin Cain

Kristin Cain

Kristin Cain, PhD, LCMHC, CCS has been working with people who have mental health and substance use co-occurring disorders for the past 25 years. Currently, she is the Senior Director of Operations for SouthLight Healthcare where she has been working on removing the stigma associated with Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) and expanding access to care.

Under her leadership, SouthLight has expanded access to MAT in the evening hours, the only program in North Carolina to do so, expanded access in the correctional system with a collaboration with the Wake County Detention Center and has partnered with Wake County EMS to support their ability to provide post overdose inductions. She has been actively involved with North Carolina’s Association for the Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder (NCATOD). NCATOD supports and empowers professionals to enhance the quality of patient care in treatment programs by promoting the growth and development of comprehensive opioid treatment services throughout North Carolina.