Can Tanning Be Addictive?

We’ve all seen people who take tanning too far, but does this sun-worshipping behavior constitute an addiction? A new study suggests ritual tanning could become abuse on the same level as alcoholism. A standard testing tool used to identify a “substance-related disorder” (SRD) or problem drinking was applied to the tanning practices of college students, and the results were surprising. Results showed that 18 percent of those who reported regularly tanning outdoors (as opposed to in a tanning bed) met the criteria for being hooked on the behavior. For those who visit tanning salons regularly the number jumped to 28 percent, and women were nearly three times more likely to be UV-addicted than men.

The study also seemed to show a connection between some types of addictive behavior and others. In an interesting correlation, many of the same students who scored positively for SRD in relation to drinking were more likely to show a similar dependence on cigarettes. A 2002 National Institutes of Health study found that 16 percent of college students who reported smoking daily also scored positively for SRD.

UV Exposure & Cancer

While warnings against tobacco and alcohol abuse are ubiquitous, UV exposure warnings are less common, even though medical science has proven that too much sun can be not just dangerous but deadly. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, more than 1 million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year, making it an unrecognized epidemic. More than 10 percent of these cases are melanoma, a cancer that claims 8,000 lives in the US each year.

Even if there were more warnings, though, education alone isn’t likely to end this harmful behavior since one of the characteristics of an addiction is continuing a behavior despite the risk of harm or negative consequences. Even a family history of skin cancer doesn’t deter habitual tanners. In fact, it may make someone more likely to tan.

If you or someone you love needs treatment for an addiction and co-occurring disorder, call The Oaks at La Paloma at the toll-free number on our homepage. Someone is there to take your call 24 hours a day and answer any questions you have about treatment, financing or insurance.

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