Module 6: how drugs work: facilitator's guide

Key terms

Page last updated: 2004

  • Abstinence - Refraining from drug use.

  • Amphetamine - Behavioural stimulant.

  • Antabuse - Trade name for disulfiram, a drug that interferes with the breakdown of alcohol, resulting in the accumulation of acetaldehyde.

  • Antagonist - Drug that attaches to a receptor and blocks the action of either an endogenous transmitter or an agonist drug.

  • Antidepressant - Drug that is useful in treating mental depression in depressed patients but does not produce stimulant effects in normal persons.

  • AOD - Alcohol and/or other drugs

  • Barbiturates - Class of chemically related sedative-hypnotic compounds that share a characteristic six-membered ring structure.

  • Benzodiazepines - Class of chemically related sedative-hypnotic agents of which chlordiazepoxide (Librium) and diazepam (Valium) are examples.

  • Bipolar disorder - Affective disorder characterised by alternating bouts of mania and depression. Previously referred to as manic-depressive illness.

  • Brand name - Unique name licensed to one manufacturer of a drug. Contrasts with generic name, the name under which any manufacturer may sell a drug.

  • Caffeine - Behavioural and general cellular stimulant found in coffee, tea, cola drinks and chocolate.

  • Cannabis - Plant that contains marijuana.

  • Central nervous system (CNS) - Brain and spinal cord. Top of page

  • Cirrhosis - Serious, usually irreversible liver disease. Usually associated with chronic excessive alcohol consumption.

  • Cocaine - Behavioural stimulant.

  • Codeine - Sedative and pain-relieving agent found in opium. Structurally related to morphine but less potent.

  • Crack - Street name for a smokable form of potent, concentrated cocaine.

  • Delirium tremens - Syndrome of tremulousness with hallucinations, (DT's, 'rum fits') psychomotor agitation, confusion and disorientation, sleep disorders and other associated discomforts, lasting several days after alcohol withdrawal.

  • Depressants - Drugs that slow down the brain and central nervous system.

  • Detoxification - Process of allowing time for the body to metabolise and/or excrete accumulations of a drug. Usually a first step in drug abuse evaluation and treatment.

  • Drug - Within the context of this course, a drug is a substance that produces a psycho-active effect (i.e. changes in mood or behaviour due to alterations in brain function).

  • Drug absorption - Mechanism by which a drug reaches the bloodstream from the skin, lungs, stomach, intestinal tract, or muscle.

  • Drug dependence - Occurs when a drug becomes central to a person's thoughts, emotions and activities. A dependent person finds it difficult to stop using the drug or even to cut down on the amount used. Dependence has physiological and psychological elements.

  • Drug half-life - The time it takes for 50 percent of a drug to be metabolised into an inactive substance and/or eliminated from a person's body.

  • Drug interaction - Modification of the action of one drug by the concurrent or prior administration of another drug.

  • Drug misuse - Use of any drug (legal or illegal) for a medical or recreational purpose when other alternatives are available, practical, or warranted or when drug use endangers either the user or others.

  • Generic name - Name under which any manufacturer may sell a drug.

  • Hallucinogens - Drugs that act on the brain to distort perception, (i.e. sight, taste, touch, sound or smell).

  • Harm minimisation - Harm minimisation is the primary principle underpinning the National Drug Strategy and refers to policies and programs aimed at reducing drug-related harm. It encompasses a wide range of approaches including abstinence-oriented strategies. Both legal and illegal drugs are the focus of Australia's harm minimisation strategy. Harm minimisation includes preventing anticipated harm and reducing actual harm.

  • Harm reduction - Harm reduction aims to reduce the impact of drug-related harm on individuals and communities. It includes those strategies designed to reduce the harm associated with drug use without necessarily reducing or stopping use.

  • Hashish - Extract of the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa) that has a higher concentration of THC than does marijuana.

  • Heroin - Semisynthetic opiate produced by a chemical modification of morphine. Top of page

  • Intoxication - Any change in our perception, mood, thinking processes and motor skills as a result of the impact of a drug(s) on our central nervous system.

  • Major tranquillizer - Drug used in the treatment of psychotic states (antipsychotic tranquillizer).

  • Marijuana - Mixture of the crushed leaves, flowers, and small branches of both the male and female hemp plant (Cannabis sativa).

  • Morphine - Major sedative and pain-relieving drug found in opium, comprising approximately 10 percent of the crude opium exudate.

  • Neuron - The basic nerve cell of the nervous system which transmits nerve impulses to and from the body and the brain.

  • Neurotransmitter - Endogenous chemical released by one neuron that alters the electrical activity of another neuron.

  • Nicotine - Behavioural stimulant found in tobacco which is responsible for the psychedelic effects of tobacco and for tobacco dependence.

  • Opioid - Natural or synthetic drug that exerts actions on the body similar to those induced by morphine, the major pain-relieving agent obtained from the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum).

  • Opium - Rude resinous exudate from the opium poppy.

  • Overdose - Use of a drug in an amount that causes acute adverse physical or mental effects. Overdose may produce transient or lasting effects and can sometimes be fatal.

  • Pharmaco-dynamics - Study of the interactions of a drug and the receptors responsible for the action of the drug in the body.

  • Pharmacokinetics - Study of the factors that influence the absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion of a drug.

  • Pharmacology - Branch of science that deals with the study of drugs and their actions on living systems.

  • Physical dependence - State in which the use of a drug is required for a person to function normally. Confirmed by withdrawing the drug and noting the occurrence of withdrawal symptoms (abstinence syndrome). Characteristically, withdrawal symptoms can be terminated by readministration of the drug.

  • Placebo - Pharmacologically inert substance that may elicit a significant reaction largely because of the mental 'set' of the patient or the physical setting in which the drug is taken.

  • Poly-drug use - The use of more than one psycho-active drug, simultaneously or at different times. The term 'poly-drug user' is often used to distinguish a person with a varied pattern of drug use from someone who uses one kind of drug exclusively.

  • Potency - Measure of drug activity expressed in terms of the amount required to produce an effect of a given intensity. Potency varies inversely with the amount of drug required to produce this effect - the more potent the drug, the lower the amount required to produce the effect.

  • Psychological dependence - Compulsion to use a drug for its pleasurable effects. Such dependence may lead to a compulsion to misuse a drug.

  • Psycho-pharmacotherapy - Clinical treatment of psychiatric disorders with drugs Top of page

  • Receptor - Location in the nervous system at which a neurotransmitter or drug binds in order to exert its characteristic effect

  • Route of administration - Method used to take drugs into the body. Includes oral (via the mouth); injection (intravenous, intramuscular, subcutaneous); inhalation (via the lungs); mucous membrane absorption (nasal, under the tongue, anal/rectal); dermal/topical (skin patches or cream).

  • Side effect - Drug-induced effect that accompanies the primary effect for which the drug is administered.

  • Stimulants - Drugs that speed up the brain and nervous system.

  • Tolerance - Occurs when a person needs increased doses of a drug to obtain the same effect as the body adapts to the presence of the drug. Tolerance develops more quickly if use is frequent and heavy.

  • Toxic effect - Adverse drug-induced effect (temporary or permanent) on any organ or system of an animal or person. Includes both the relatively minor side effects that invariably accompany drug administration and the more serious and unexpected manifestations that occur in only a small percentage of patients who take a drug.

  • Withdrawal symptoms - Symptoms that can occur when a person using a drug over a prolonged period reduces or ceases use.