Healthy Tahoe: Gets the facts about addiction

Tracy Protell, MD
Tracy Protell, MD

Drug and alcohol addictions aren’t mere character flaws. They’re diseases that change the way the brain functions.

Scientists have examined brain scans of those who are addicted. They can see differences in areas that are critical to judgment, decision-making, learning, memory, and behavior control.

On first use, drugs stimulate the brain’s reward system and release pleasure boosting chemicals. Over time, more of the substance is needed to get the same “high.” An addict will feel sick, anxious, and irritable when he or she isn’t using.

The person will do almost anything to get alcohol or drugs — even if it hurts others or his or her own health.

Medications, therapy, or a combination of the two help treat addiction. The best choice depends on the person, so talk with your doctor if you or someone you love is struggling with addiction.

Substance abuse has been identified as a leading health care issue in the community.

In addition to safe and accessible medical services through Barton Health, there are several crisis lines available for Lake Tahoe residents to call for support with addiction, behavioral and mental health issues:

El Dorado County Mental Health – 530-544-2219

El Dorado County Substance Use Disorder Services – 530-544-2219

Live Violence Free – 530-544-4444

Tahoe Youth & Family Services – 800-870-8937

National Alliance on Mental Illness – 800-950-6264

Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 800-273-TALK (8255)

Dr. Tracy Protell is a board-certified psychiatrist providing care through Barton Health. One in eight people are affected by diagnosable mental illness, and only one third of our community will seek help. If you or a loved one need support, local resources are available. Ask your care provider for a referral to speak with a behavioral health specialist, or visit

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