Squirrel Hill, Wabash Street, and Cranberry, Pittsburgh, PA


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Co-Occurring Disorder Treatment  

The presence of a psychiatric disorder along with substance abuse — known as “co-occurring disorders” — poses unique challenges to a treatment team. Individuals diagnosed with depression, social phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, or other serious psychiatric conditions have a higher rate of substance abuse than the general population. In fact, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that substance abuse is twice as prevalent among people with a serious psychiatric disorder. The total number of American adults with co-occurring disorders is estimated at nearly 8.5 million, reports the NIH.

Positive Pathways now has a full time Psychiatrist on staff for our patients.

• Imbalances in brain chemistry predispose certain individuals to both psychiatric disorders and substance abuse.


• Mental illness and substance abuse may run in the family, increasing the risk of acquiring both disorders through heredity.


• Drugs or alcohol may be used to self-medicate, or to manage symptoms if those symptoms aren’t properly treated,


• Drug or alcohol abuse may aggravate the symptoms of a psychiatric disorder or trigger the onset of a latent psychiatric illness.

Positive Pathways offers treatment for clients living with co-occurring disorders. We understand that these patients require an intensive, highly personal approach to care. That’s why we tailor each treatment plan for co-occurring disorders to the client’s diagnosis, medical history, psychological needs, and emotional condition.


Why is substance abuse so common among people living with mental illness? There are several possible explanations:

Treatment for co-occurring disorders must begin with a complete neuropsychological evaluation to determine the client’s needs, identify their personal strengths, and find potential barriers to recovery. Using this information, the treatment team can develop a specialized plan of care that addresses the client’s substance abuse and mental illness concurrently.

Some clients may already be aware of having a psychiatric diagnosis when Positive Pathways’ Psychiatrist sees them, Others are receiving a diagnosis and effective mental health care for the first time. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that 60 percent of adults with a psychiatric disorder received no therapeutic help at all within the past 12 months. For these individuals, a treatment program for co-occurring disorders represents a new source of hope.

In order to treat both conditions successfully, a facility’s mental health and recovery services must be integrated. Unless both issues are addressed at the same time, the outcomes of treatment probably will not be positive. A client with a serious mental illness who is treated only for addiction is likely to either drop out of treatment early or to experience a relapse of either psychiatric symptoms or substance abuse.


Treatment Methods

• Intensive individual therapy with a psychiatrist or therapist to address the symptoms and challenges of the psychiatric disorder

• Behavioral modification therapies (cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavior therapy) to teach coping skills and increase self-awareness

• Medication therapy to help manage psychiatric symptoms or to reduce the cravings for drugs or alcohol

• Group therapy with peers who are also faced with the challenges of a dual diagnosis

• Introduction to 12-step principles to initiate the process of spiritual recovery

Mental illness can pose specific obstacles to treatment, such as low motivation, fear of sharing with others, difficulty with concentration, and emotional volatility. The treatment team must take a collaborative approach, working closely with the client to motivate and assist them through the steps of recovery.




At Positive Pathways we make it a priority to treat co-occurring disorders within the same program, using the following methods: