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Building a Community for Addiction Recovery in the Coachella Valley

Author: Libby Peck

Palm Springs is a destination vacation hotspot, providing its visitors relaxation and ample sunshine. But it's not just popular for tourists--it's a great place to receive addiction treatment and build a supportive recovery community, too. Sunspire Health Desert Palms' Clinical Director, Dr. Rebecca Gaba, discusses how her facility develops a sense of community that its patients need to thrive.

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Riverside County is, simply put, an oasis. With 350 days of sunshine per year, gorgeous desert mountains and palm trees and world-class vintage shopping and art available, it’s an ideal spot for destination getaways: about a million annual visitors to Palm Springs agree.

But life isn’t always so sunny here. Southern California is known by the DEA as a major high-intensity drug trafficking area due to its proximity to the major production centers of Mexican cartels. Riverside County residents are particularly affected by the state’s addiction crisis. Fatal drug overdoses are at a 10-year high in Orange County, and in 2015, there were 510 drug or alcohol-related deaths just in San Diego County. Out of all adult Californians in 2014, over 2 million abused or were dependent on alcohol and another 876,000 were dependent on illegal drugs.

Locals and business owners are fighting the addiction epidemic from taking an even greater grasp on this paradise. Places like Sunspire Health Desert Palms provide trusted clinical care for treating addiction in the Coachella Valley. Just 15 minutes away from Palm Springs, Desert Palms provides compassionate yet professional care in treating substance use and co-occurring disorders with an evidence-based, medically proven approach.

Treatment at Desert Palms encompasses the entire spectrum of needs in recovery from addiction. From group and individual therapy sessions to teaching valuable life skills and tools to stay sober post-treatment, this center’s approach treats people physically, emotionally and mentally. It also offers a full continuum of care for patients—from detoxification, to 30-day residential programming, to outpatient programs for people to easily transition back to everyday life.

Dr. Rebecca Gaba, Clinical Director of Desert Palms, says that about a third of her patient population is from southern California. For both local patients and the others who come to the Coachella Valley from across the country, it’s important to build a strong sense of community.

“We really build on a social model of community here because we know that that’s what’s really going to help people get through [the residential] stage of treatment. We want people to have that positive experience while they’re here because it will help them want that same experience when they […] go on to their next phase of recovery,” she explains.

Many incoming patients seeking recovery from addiction may not have the personal experience of a support system to lean on, especially at the height of a substance use disorder when that sense of community is needed most. But Desert Palms staff and patients help newcomers feel comfortable from the first day they arrive.

Dr. Gaba has a perfect example of how Desert Palms welcomes new patients with open arms. “We had a young woman come in who was very afraid. One of our younger members here who had finished detox and was here for about 12 days took her under his wing. […] She had only been here 12 hours, but people in the community recognized how stressed and anxious she was and created a safety net for her here. That’s the strength of the community right there,” she says.

Though patients are welcomed into the Desert Palms family from day one, they have to graduate to week two of residential treatment before they’re integrated into the greater Palm Springs recovery community. This gives them time to settle into their new structured schedule and be introduced to support groups and meetings in a smaller, more controlled setting.

Dr. Gaba says, “For those folks who plan on being in the area, it’s an opportunity for them to get a sponsor. For those who will be returning to their home communities or going to a different location for their aftercare program, they’ll have the experience of being in 12-Step and getting a sponsor; that experience of community both here on campus and out in the community is one that they’ll bring with them into their aftercare program.”

Not all patients come to treatment fully mentally prepared for this strong community to hold them up—and also to hold them accountable in recovery. But over time, and with the family-like support for patients both at Desert Palms and in the Palm Springs recovery community, they tend to come around.

For Dr. Gaba, the most rewarding days of her job occur when she has patients who have an “aha moment” about their time at Desert Palms. “When I see patients who were struggling begin engaging in groups, engaging with their peers and engaging with the staff for support, that’s a successful day.”

To learn more about how Desert Palms can help you or a loved one overcome addiction, visit the facility's website to chat with a care advocate.