Trinity Christia College

Outside view of Ozinga Chapel at Trinity Christian College, where an upcoming psychology conference on addiction will take place. (Courtesy Trinity Christian College / December 6, 2011)

The complex biological, psychological and spiritual aspects of addiction can make tackling the disease hard, according to experts in the field.

A psychology conference on addiction at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights will help students, counselors and the public better understand addiction and how to help individuals addicted to drugs.

The conference on "Addiction in Perspective: Grace and Recovery" will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. April 5, at the college's Ozinga Chapel, 6601 W. College Drive in Palos Heights. Professionals can earn continuing education credits for a $15 processing fee.

While biology and therapy play an important role in addiction, spirituality can also be important, noted Dr. Michael DeVries, a psychology professor at Trinity who is organizing the conference and will give opening remarks.

"I think there's a growing recognition in the field of counseling and therapy that you really can't ignore the spiritual component of successful treatment for substance abuse," said DeVries, who directs the college's Counseling Psychology Graduate Program. "I think an addicted person has to have some other reference point that anchors their life and serves as an alternative to the lifestyle and pattern of behavior that focuses around drug use."

The cognitive changes addicts undergo can make battling addiction especially challenging, according to Dr. Derrick Hassert, professor and chairman of the Psychology Department at Trinity.

"One thing neurologically that happens when somebody becomes addicted to a substance is that an area of the brain that's involved in logical decision-making and really planning for the future tends to turn off a bit…it doesn't function as well," said Hassert. "Another area of the brain that is more sensitive to immediate rewards and outcomes becomes more active.

"One of the aspects of addiction that most people are aware of is the person feels as though they don't have as much control of their behavior as they had previously. In many ways, neurologically speaking, that's fairly accurate," said Hassert.

But therapy can help combat some of the neurological effects of addiction, said Hassert.

"Once someone figures out they can dictate their own high, it's kind of hard to get them to stop doing that," said Hassert. "But the good news is the therapeutic process can be helpful in restoring the ability to control behavior."

Rev. Mark Brouwer, another speaker at the conference, said battling his own addiction meant rethinking some of his thought processes, decisions and spirituality. Brouwer, the pastor of Jacob's Well Church Community in Evergreen Park, offers counseling through a company he founded and speaks at a number of addiction and recovery events.

"With our addictions, it's sort of dealing with frustrations, challenges and escaping into addiction," said Brouwer. "We learn to somehow face those things."

Brouwer said he used to think that God would bless him or punish him according to certain things he did. But during his recovery, he realized his own actions and interactions with people around him could have a strong effect on how he coped and felt.

"One of the things in my case was a certain expectation about how God works in my life," said Brouwer. "I've come to see there's a lot more mystery to that."

Other speakers at the conference will be Dr. Dianna Evers, an addictions specialist; Rev. Dr. William Lenters of Rosencrantz Health Network; and Dr. Mary Lynn Colosimo, a psychology professor at Trinity. Information is at http://www.trnty.edu/latestevents/1843-030614-psychconf.html.