Founder of Hattiesburg clinic speaks about sex addiction

Patrick Carnes
Patrick Carnes

By Mike McDaniel - bio | email

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Tucked away between the everyday businesses off of Broadway Drive in Hattiesburg is a place which recently found itself the center of attention.

A sex addiction clinic called Gentle Path, part of Pine Grove Mental Health, was the focus of media attention after Tiger Woods was allegedly treated there.

Since it opened in 2004, the doctor in charge and founder of Pine Grove's Gentle Path clinic has been Patrick Carnes, who says sex addiction, being an uncomfortable topic for many, is tough for people to understand.

"This is no longer a question of whether the disease exists," said Carnes. "There are questions about how does it all work."

Carnes points to patients with histories of physical, emotional and sexual abuse, later developing into an addiction to sex, which he says is just like any other addiction.

"The myth is that you have to take chemicals to be addicted, but now as we understand the brain [we know] that a brain disease is literally where the reward centers of the brain make it impossible for the person to make good choices for themselves."

Carnes added, for anyone looking to use sex addiction as an excuse, it's typically caught ahead of time.

"Usually that's been sorted out before they get to us," he said. "There are therapists in every metropolitan area across the country that work in our network. By the time they get to an inpatient setting, it's because something has happened that they recognize they can't go on living like this."

For anyone receiving treatment at Gentle Path, which is typically a six-week period, Carnes says it begins with a 12-step program, then includes disease education, group and then family work.

"If the patient doesn't do what we ask, we use the phrase 'dead man walking' because whether it be cocaine, or heroin, or gambling, or sex, or food, they all can take you down," said Carnes.

Another challenge, said Carnes, is the Internet with online pornography and cyber sex, both of which can foster addiction even in young children.

Carnes said addiction can be controlled, but just as with any brain disease, it can take three to five years of treatment.

"When they leave us, they return to a therapist in their hometown and they continue working those tasks, and if they do that, the success rate is quite high," he said.

Success can also be costly, considering the cost to run the facility as a whole, but Carnes said the cost of someone's personal life can be even greater, if there's no treatment.

"Compared to what they were doing, it's a low-cost option," said Carnes.

For patients of all addictions coming in to Pine Grove, Carnes said many are suicidal, and that mental health is the country's biggest issue.

"Forrest General and Pine Grove is really a very unique opportunity for this kind of work. It's something this community can really take pride in," added Carnes.

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