A Real Lexicon for Addiction

Our views on addiction have changed radically since Stanton Peele and Archie Brodsky wrote Love and Addiction in 1975, and Stanton followed up with his 1985 book The Meaning of Addiction.

But our modern vocabulary often doesn’t reflect these changes. Working and communicating with clients in our addiction coaching Life Process Program ® has made us especially aware that this is so.

As a result, we’ve updated our own terminology over time, and we’re still updating it.

We present here a list of some terms we not only dislike, but that we actually believe are misleading. (In fact, if you ever see these terms in our own writing, without proper context, please let us know so we can fix it.)

I. We use these term with caution/nuance


We have to use this term so that people can find us and understand what we are and do.

But we are not interested in perpetuating any standard definition of recovery.  For us, the term outlives any usefulness — and becomes a drag — once people begin to change. They have already shown that they can change by adjusting their behavior and life situations. There is no “long term recovery” in our program. People are constantly in a process of change and adjustment, not in some state of being.

Thus, people’s defining themselves as “being in recovery” is just as wrong and detrimental as their defining themselves by their original addiction experience (e.g., “I am an alcoholic/addict”).

When we use the term, we try to couch it in a way that indicates its context: i.e., to indicate we’re coaching clients who are improving addictive types of behavior, and not that they’re entering the recovery “club.”


The Life Process Program (LPP) adopts a unique interpretation of the term “relapse” that differs from its common usage. Typically, “relapse” is associated with addiction as a medical condition that can recur at any moment. However, our approach is different. We use the term to describe a situation where someone makes choices that conflict with their goals for personal improvement.

Our program encourages participants to view relapse as a series of choices that they made, which can be observed and changed, instead of seeing it as an event that happens to them. This perspective contradicts Alcoholics Anonymous’ approach, which believes that one drink can lead to a complete loss of control.

At LPP, our exercises on “relapse prevention” are focused on several key areas, including:

  • Preparing for potential roadblocks and avoiding unwanted events
  • Managing and responding to undesired events if they occur
  • Using the experience to plan for the future

We frequently use the term “relapse” in our blog posts and exercises — and in our exercises if you join the program—but we never suggest that people are powerless over their decisions.

II. We don’t use these terms


We don’t care about sobriety as it’s defined in the recovery industry: as a state of perpetual abstinence. The more technical definition —“the physiological and psychological state of being unaffected by the presence of an intoxicant”— is accurate enough. But it describes a state of current consciousness, and not an identity or state of being, like it’s used by the recovery movement.

For us sobriety (meaning abstinence) isn’t an end-goal. It can be a goal for some people with some substances. But that varies for each individual. Total or partial abstinence isn’t for everyone in every situation. For instance, one of us abstains from heroin, while he consumes alcohol and will smoke marijuana.

It’s much healthier if a person is able to incorporate substances into their lives as appropriate. For instance, the one of us who doesn’t use heroin would gladly use an opioid as medically needed. In other words, we use substances as they add value to our lives, rather than detract from them.

This ability to make beneficial, healthy choices and to still remain in balance is the opposite of addiction — and of sobriety/recovery.

(See Peele’s quote about “recovery” below).


We just don’t call people this, or want them to refer to themselves in this way. We don’t believe that addiction is a person’s permanent identity. The term addict has been wielded as a way of putting people in a box. Worst of all, they may put this box around themselves. Therefore we do not label people or refer to them as “addicts.”

We have changed around this usage. At one time, we could say a person is (or was) an addict. Everyone knew what an addict behaved like — compulsively consuming or doing something in a self-destructive way. But that terminology has also outlived its usefulness.

So this is a term that has popped up in Stanton’s writing. We hope you will understand and recognize that when it appears this is left over from Stanton’s earlier work. But this usage is no longer appropriate.  Again, if you see it on the LPP site, please point it out so that we can eliminate it.


We operate at both the individual (psychological) and societal (sociological) levels. We pay attention to language, and the way it evolves and is deployed. We do so because language affects how individuals act and think, on the one hand, and how society deals with drugs and addiction, on the other.

So language is crucial. And thus the need to pay attention to it, as we are doing with this Lexicon.

Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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