AOD sector terminology
People working in the alcohol and other drugs (AOD) sector will encounter a range of specialised terms in their everyday work. This article describes some issues relating to language, provides links to glossaries and explains some popular acronyms.
Slang, street names and different cultural names are often used by clients to describe drugs. This can be confusing for AOD workers as one drug can have many different names depending on the client.
Take cannabis for example. The proper clinical term in Australia is cannabis, but in other countries the clinical term is marijuana. Slang and street names can include grass, hash, pot, weed, dope, reefer, joint, cones, skunk and many others. In other cultures, cannabis can have another name altogether. In Victorian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, it is often known as yarndi, whereas in Northern Territory communities, it is known as ganja or gunja.
Another example is legal highs. Legal highs are often not legal, so a better term for them is new psychoactive drugs (NPSs) because their chemical structure is constantly changing to stay ahead of the law. NPSs are also referred to by clients as synthetic cannabis, herbal highs, party pills, synthetic cocaine, herbal ecstasy, bath salts, plant fertiliser, herbal incense and research chemicals.
Once you are aware of the language your client group uses, it's helpful to reflect that language back to them. And if you are unsure about what drug they are referring to, there are a range of tools such as glossaries which can help you identify different drugs by their name.
AOD workers often have to navigate a huge volume of technical terms and acronyms, especially when they are starting out in the sector. Below is a selection of key Australian AOD glossaries.
The Australian Drug Information Network (ADIN) glossary is one of the most complete collections of common words and their meanings specific to the AOD field.
This glossary has been developed to define terms that are particularly relevant to those working to reduce harms from AOD use in Aboriginal communities.
The Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF) has also developed a SMS service which allows the identification of a drug from its slang name as well as providing brief effects and links to further information and help. To identify a drug, text the name to 0439 TELL ME (0439 835 563).
There are also a number of international AOD glossaries that may be useful if you come across a term you don't know.
In 1994 the World Health Organization (WHO) developed a glossary which provides a set of definitions of terms about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. It covers both social and health aspects of AOD use.
The Cochrane Drugs and Alcohol Group put together a glossary of AOD terms with definitions taken from DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), the WHO Lexicon of Alcohol and Drug Terms, and the National Institute of Drug Abuse (USA) among others. Due to the wide range of sources, it is one of the most complete lists of terms compiled for the AOD sector.
It is important to be aware that the language you use can enforce stigma, stereotypes or discrimination towards people who use alcohol or other drugs. The fear of discrimination and stigma can be a reason for people to not seek or undertake treatment.
Try to avoid language that may imply any bias or judgment. A good approach is to emphasise the person rather than the condition.
The following is a list of common acronyms and abbreviations that you may encounter while working in the AOD sector.
Last updated: 16 August 2016