Guide to Abbreviations: Drug, Mental Health, & Treatment Terms
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Acronyms and abbreviations play an important role in the medical world. While Medscape suggests that doctors should avoid using these terms when talking to patients, they tend to slip in when doctors are writing reports or trying to express a great deal of information in a short amount of time.
For families looking for reliable information about treatment and drug use, this guide may help. It is full of many of the abbreviations doctors use every day.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says the use of illicit substances is rising in the United States. Close to 10 percent of adults use illicit drugs. There are all sorts of acronyms that describe the substances they take.
- ATS: amphetamine-type stimulant. This acronym is used to describe a substance that is similar to an amphetamine and can produce the same burst of energy and feeling of joy, but which might not contain any ingredients that have been clinically recognized as amphetamines. These drugs are not safer than amphetamine drugs.
- DXM: dextromethorphan. This substance is commonly found in cough syrups and cold medications. The Center for Substance Abuse Research also points out that it is a powerful hallucinogenic drug that can create a state similar to that seen when people take PCP or ketamine.
- E: ecstasy. This drug, which is often sold and taken in concerts and other music venues, creates hallucinations and an altered sense of reality. It has also been associated with dangerously high body temperatures and/or heart failure.
- PCP: phencyclidine. This substance, which is also known as angel dust, is a dissociative drug that was first created as an anesthetic, but quickly became a recreational drug of choice for people who enjoy hallucinations.
- GBL: gamma-Butyrolactone. This drug is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. It can be used as a solvent or a cleaner, but it can also be used to augment the effects of alcohol. Some people also tinker with this drug as a replacement for the illegal drug, GHB.
- GHB: gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid. This substance got a reputation in the 1980s and 1990s as a “date rape drug,” as it was easy to slip into the drinks of unsuspecting party goers, who would then become pliant and easy prey for rapists. But, as The Daily Beast points out, the drug is making a comeback now among people who enjoy the euphoria of alcohol without hangovers. These people take the drug purposefully.
- K2: a brand-name for synthetic marijuana. This drug was designed to help dealers evade drug laws. The substance produces many of the same effects seen in marijuana, but it is not considered illegal in all parts of the country. It is typically sold in small, brightly colored, foil packages.
- LAAM: levacetylmethadol. This drug has a chemical structure that is very similar to methadone. Like methadone, it is often used to help people to recover from very serious addictions to painkillers or heroin, but it also comes with abuse potential. Some people grow addicted to this medication, too.
- LSD: lysergic acid diethylamide. This drug is sometimes called simply acid. It is a psychedelic drug that can cause anxiety, paranoia, and delusions. It is not considered addictive, but people can do terrible things while on the drug, and some develop a flashback syndrome in which they feel the symptoms of a high return repeatedly.
- MDMA: methylenedioxyphenethylamine. This is the formal name for the active ingredient in ecstasy. Some drug users call this drug Molly, and they believe that products sold as Molly have a higher proportion of MDMA than products sold as ecstasy. This has not been scientifically proven.
- MSIR: morphine sulfate IR. Morphine is a painkilling drug. This is a quick-release version of morphine, which is capable of transforming the brain with sensation in mere minutes. It is considered addictive and dangerous.
- CNS: central nervous system (depressant/stimulant). This abbreviation is often used in relation to drugs like benzodiazepines or Ritalin. These drugs work directly on the fibers of the nervous system, changing the way a person thinks, feels, and perceives the world.
- RX: medical prescriptions. This abbreviation has its roots in Latin. It refers to prescriptions doctors write for patients to fill at pharmacies for the help they want and need. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation suggests that there are 4 billion such prescriptions filled in pharmacies every year.
- THC: tetrahydrocannabinol. This is the active ingredient in marijuana. It occurs naturally inside of the plant, for reasons that scientists have not quite made clear. The human body is packed with receptors for THC, both in the brain and in the gut.
- OTC: over the counter. This designation refers to drugs that consumers can legally buy in a store or a pharmacy without a prescription from a doctor. The designation does not refer to safety, as many OTC drugs are as dangerous as illegal drugs.
Abbreviations for Mental Health Disorders
Addictions can cause a great deal of stress and distress. Mental health disorders can do the same thing. Most of these disorders are caused by shifts in brain chemistry, and when they are in place, people may lean on drugs or alcohol for relief.
- AD: adjustment disorder. This mental illness, per Psychology Today, refers to an abnormal and/or excessive reaction to a life stress others might consider mildly anxiety-provoking or not anxiety-provoking at all.
- ASPD: antisocial personality disorder. People with this mental illness struggle to follow the rules of society. They may lie, steal, cheat, or otherwise behave in ways that their peers find unusual and/or frightening.
- ADD: attention deficit disorder. This disorder is often diagnosed in children, but it can be present in adults too. ADD is characterized by an inability to focus on and/or complete tasks.
- ADHD: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. This is quite similar to ADD, but people with ADHD may also fidget, pace, make faces, or otherwise move in moments when they should be still.
- AvPD: avoidant personality disorder. The U.S. National Library of Medicine suggests that people with this disorder have a lifelong history of shyness, paired with sensitivity to rejection.
- BED: binge eating disorder. People with this disorder eat a great deal of food in one sitting, and often, they go through a binge like this in a trance, unaware of the amount that they are eating. Obesity is a common problem for people with BED.
- BDD: body dysmorphic disorder. People with this disorder are consistently dissatisfied with one aspect their appearance. They may fixate on a body part, such as the nose, or they may focus on weight or size.
- BPD: borderline personality disorder. People with this disorder experience huge shifts in mood, over which they have no control. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says that suicide risk is very real in this population, as 80 percent of people with BPD attempt suicide at some point.
- CRSD: circadian rhythm sleep disorders. The circadian rhythm regulates sleep/wake patterns. People with a disorder to this rhythm may awaken at unusual times or feel sleepy at unusual times. Some sleep very little overall.
- CD: conduct disorder. Defiance and arrogance characterizes this mental health disorder. People who have it may spend a great deal of time in jail or prison, simply because they find it hard to get along with others.
- EDNOS: eating disorder not otherwise specified. Doctors use a rigid set of criteria to diagnose eating disorders. People with EDNOS have unusual eating habits, but they do not fit tidily into the criteria used for clinical disorders.
- GAD: generalized anxiety disorder. People with this disorder feel nervous and anxious almost all the time, and they may not be able to articulate why those feelings are there or what should be done about them.
- NES: night eating syndrome. Bingeing on food late at night characterizes this disorder. People who have it may not be aware that they are eating at night, and they may vehemently deny evidence to the contrary.
- MDD: major depressive disorder. According to NIMH, people with major depression lose the ability to work, sleep, study, enjoy life, or eat due to their depression symptoms. People with this disorder may experience many such episodes throughout life.
- OCD: obsessive-compulsive disorder. People with this disorder experience unusual thoughts or opinions (obsessions), and they use unusual behaviors like counting or pacing (compulsions) to deal with those thoughts.
- ODD: oppositional defiant disorder. This disorder is often diagnosed in childhood. It involves a persistent inability to obey the authority of others, paired with irritability and defiance.
- ON: orthorexia. This form of eating disorder is not currently recognized as a clinical diagnosis, per the National Eating Disorders Association. It involves an unhealthy obsession with eating foods considered clean, organic, or somehow healthy.
- PPD: paranoid personality disorder. People with this disorder are suspicious of others, even when they have no reason to be. They may seem withdrawn from society, simply because they feel as though they have no one to trust.
- PTED: post-traumatic embitterment disorder. People with this disorder feel angry or embittered about the way life has progressed. They feel as though they have been treated unfairly, and that persistent belief makes them feel both angry and helpless.
- PTSD: post-traumatic stress disorder. People who survive or witness an event in which lives were lost or lives were at stake can emerge with this mental illness. Nightmares, nervousness, and addiction are all common co-occurring PTSD problems.
- SZA: schizoaffective disorder. People with this disorder, according to Mayo Clinic, have schizophrenia symptoms paired with mood disorder symptoms. They may have depression, mania, or anxiety riding along with schizophrenia symptoms.
- SAD: seasonal affective disorder. People with this disorder experience symptoms of depression in the winter, when the days are shorter and darker.
- SAD: separation anxiety disorder. A fear of being alone and/or being abandoned characterizes this mental illness. Some people have symptoms that revolve around just one person, while others feel this way about everyone.
- SAD: social anxiety disorder. A fear of social interactions characterizes this illness.
- SPD: schizoid personality disorder. People with this disorder avoid social activities and interacting with others. They do not enjoy close relationships.
Both mental illnesses and addictions respond to therapy. Here, people work with a trained professional on the problems they have now and on the future they would like to build. Therapists use quite a bit of truncated language, including these acronyms.
- ACT: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. This form of therapy blends mindfulness and acceptance to deliver relief.
- CAT: Cognitive Analytic Therapy. This form of therapy brings together Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and psychoanalysis.
- CBT: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Therapists and clients pair to understand addiction triggers and develop tools that can be used to avoid or deal with triggers.
- CFT: Compassion Focused Therapy. This therapy is results-driven and fast. It involves Buddhist principles and evolutionary psychotherapy, to help clients feel supported as they heal.
- CMT: Concentrative Movement Therapy. This form of therapy uses movement as a metaphor for emotional states.
- DNMS: Developmental Needs Meeting Strategy. A form of therapy that is designed to help adults resolve emotional wounds formed in childhood.
- DBT: Dialectical Behavior Therapy. This form of therapy uses questions and answers to heighten consciousness.
- ECT: Electroconvulsive Therapy. Tiny shocks of electricity delivered to the brain are designed to assist with depression and inappropriate behaviors.
- EFT: Emotionally Focused Therapy. This is a short-form of therapy made for individuals, couples, or families.
- EFT: Emotional Freedom Therapy. Clinicians using this therapy suggest that unresolved emotional issues are at the root of most mental health concerns. Therapy is designed to resolve those concerns.
- EMDR: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. In this therapy, people recount a difficult episode while following a bright light, the therapist’s finger, or a mild sound with their eyes.
- ERP: Exposure and Response Prevention. People with phobias are asked to reacquaint themselves with the issues that cause fear in a gentle, calming manner.
- FAP: Functional Analytic Psychotherapy. This form of therapy uses the client/therapist relationship to encourage change in a person in need.
- IBP: Integrative Body Psychotherapy. Clinicians use breath work and poses to help clients deal with difficult memories or emotions.
- ISTDP: Intensive Short-Term Dynamic Psychotherapy. This form of therapy lasts for just a few sessions, but homework and home study helps to make the lessons stick.
- IFS: Internal Family Systems Model. This therapy supposes that most unusual behavior and emotional misery have their roots in the family system. The whole family tries to change.
- MBCT: Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy. Mindfulness, or being aware without feeling compelled to act, is paired with CBT in this form of therapy.
- MBSR: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Stress can cause a variety of negative behaviors, including addiction. This technique uses mindfulness to help people deal with stress, so they won’t lean on other substances.
- MBT: Mentalization-Based Treatment. This form of therapy is made for people who have borderline personality disorder.
- MDT: Mode Deactivation Therapy. By setting goals and making plans, people move past difficult emotions and behaviors in this form of therapy.
- MI: Motivational Interviewing. This therapy helps people to prepare to change.
- PCIT: Parent–Child Interaction Therapy. With this therapy, the relationship of the parent and the child is examined closely.
- PCT: Person-Centered Therapy. This form of talk therapy is designed to help people examine their feelings, behaviors, and attitudes.
- PE: Prolonged Exposure Therapy. Spending a great deal of time in the presence of something that causes fear is the focus of this therapy.
- REBT: Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. This is a comprehensive form of therapy made to help resolve emotional and behavioral problems.
- SFBT: Solution Focused (Brief) Therapy. Rather than examining all of life and all triggers, this form of therapy homes in on just one issue and one solution.
- SDT: Status Dynamic Psychotherapy. This form of therapy is made to help clients shift status, so their lives will change.
- TFP: Transference Focused Psychotherapy. This form of therapy is for borderline personality disorder, and it’s based on a two-time-per-week therapy model.
In a study of American attitudes, researchers found that about 10 percent of all adults admitted to being in recovery from drugs and alcohol, says the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Many of these people got help through a structured treatment program. They come in many forms.
- IOP: intensive outpatient program. People continue to live at home, but they may head to a treatment facility every day.
- PHP: partial hospitalization program. People live at home, but they head to clinical facilities every day for care.
- IRF: inpatient rehabilitation facility. People move into the facility to get help around the clock.
- RTC: residential treatment center. People live in these facilities, too, but the facilities may have a home-like feeling that sets them apart.
Testing and Assessment Abbreviations
In order to provide the best care, teams need to know what people are dealing with right now. That testing comes with a great deal of terminology.
- BIB: biographical information blanks. This is a test made to determine a person’s suitability for a job.
- BDI: Beck depression inventory. This test assesses symptoms involving depression.
- DAT: differential aptitude tests. These test a person’s ability to learn or succeed.
- DSM: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This is a diagnostic handbook used by clinicians.
- DPS: diagnostic predictive scales. This is a screening tool used to capture different mental illnesses.
- MMPI: Minnesota multiphasic personality inventory. This test is used to measure adult personality and adult personality disorder.
- MCMI: Millon clinical multiaxial inventory. This test is designed to identify mental health disorders.
- OPQ: occupational personality questionnaire. This test is often used by employers during the hiring process to screen for peer-to-peer problems.
- PCIA: parent-child interaction assessment. This test is used to assess the relationship between a parent and a child.
- SCL-90-R: The symptom checklist-90-R. This questionnaire is designed to evaluate mental health problems.
- TAT: thematic apperception test. This test involves pictures and the viewer’s feelings about those pictures.
- WAIS: Wechsler adult intelligence scale. This tests an adult’s ability to learn.
- WIAT: Wechsler individual achievement test. This tests what the person has learned.
- WISC: Wechsler intelligence scale for children. This test assesses a child’s ability to learn.
- WRAT: wide range achievement test. This test involves four different areas of learning.
People who enroll in a treatment program for addiction or mental illness do not need help from just one person. Often, they need help from many different people who can all bring different things to the table. These are just a few of the people who might play a role in a recovery program.
- ACSW: Associate Clinical Social Worker. This person has a degree in social work, but has not yet completed the work necessary to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.
- BRI: Board Registered Interventionist. This person is qualified to hold addiction or mental health interventions for families.
- LCAT: Licensed Creative Arts Therapist. This person is ready to lead clinical art therapy classes and therapy sessions.
- LCSW: Licensed Clinical Social Worker. This person has a degree in social work and is licensed by the state to perform the work.
- LMFT: Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. This person has an advanced education in holding counseling sessions for couples and families.
- LMHC: Licensed Mental Health Counselor. This person has a degree in counseling and a license by the state to hold counseling sessions.
- LMSW: Licensed Master Social Worker. This person has a master’s degree in social work and a license to perform the work.
- LPHA: Licensed Practitioner of the Healing Arts. This person has education in art therapy, movement therapy, or music therapy and a license to perform the work.
- MD: Medical Doctor. This person has a doctoral degree in medicine and a license to practice medicine.
- MFT: Marriage and Family Therapist. This person is qualified to hold counseling sessions for couples or families.
- MSSW: Master of Science in Social Work. This person has a science degree (not an arts degree) in social work.
- MS: Master of Science. This person has completed baseline coursework in the sciences, not in the arts.
- MSW: Master of Social Work. This person has a master’s level degree in social work.
- PCP: Primary Care Physician. This medical doctor provides frontline care for a specific list of patients.
- PhD: Doctor of Philosophy. This person has a doctoral degree in philosophy.
- PNP: Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. This nurse has advanced education in psychiatry and may be able to prescribe medications, in some states.
- PsyD: Doctor of Psychology. This person has a doctoral degree in psychology.
- PT: Primary Therapist. This person is a point person for the therapy of a set list of clients.
- SCM: Supportive Case Manager or Management. This person controls how the therapy progresses and who is involved.
- RN: Registered Nurse. This person has a nursing degree and a license to work as a nurse.
Abbreviations for Support Groups
In 2004, an author writing in Rehabilitation Nursing said that support groups had become vital to people who had medical conditions. They used the groups to meet other patients and gain support. The same could be said of people who have addictions. There are many support groups to serve them.
- AA: Alcoholics Anonymous. This is a support group in the 12-Step model made for people with an addiction to alcohol.
- CA: Cocaine Anonymous. This 12-Step support group is for people with an addiction to cocaine.
- CoDA: Co-Dependents Anonymous. This 12-Step support group is for people struggling with codependency issues.
- FAA: Food Addicts Anonymous. This 12-Step support group is for people with binge-type eating disorders.
- GA: Gamblers Anonymous. This 12-Step support group deals with gambling.
- HA: Heroin Anonymous. This 12-Step support group is for people addicted to heroin.
- MA: Marijuana Anonymous. This 12-Step support group is for people with an addiction to marijuana.
- NA: Narcotics Anonymous. This 12-Step support group is for people with an addiction to narcotics, such as pain pills.
- PA: Pills Anonymous. This 12-Step support group is for people addicted to pain pills.
Other Treatment-Related Abbreviations
The world of recovery is vast, and sometimes, it doesn’t happen within the walls of a treatment facility. Sometimes, the terms can’t easily be applied to therapy, either. These are a few acronyms that this applies to.
- EAP: employee assistance program. Employer-based counseling for workers, along with referrals to treatment, is the purview of an EAP.
- EBPs: evidence-based practices. This term refers to practices that have been proven by science.
- FBTP: family-based treatment program. These programs involve the whole family in the healing process.
- HIPAA: Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. This law was designed to protect the privacy of medical records.
- LOC: level of care. A technical term teams use when determining placement into a program.
- PEM: psycho-educational model. Marrying education with therapy forms the crux of this model.
- RPP: relapse prevention plan. This plan helps to ensure that a person who completes treatment can stay clean when the program is through.
- SIB: self-injurious behavior. Cutting, burning, slapping, and other forms of self-harm all fall into this category.
- THP: transitional housing program. These programs provide a intermediate step from the rigidity of treatment to the freedom of home.