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Is Tanning Addictive?

Jersey Shore, watch out. New studies show that tanning has an effect on the brain that is akin to the effect of chronic drug abuse – and that this means that tanning can be as addictive as illicit drugs and alcohol.

There are two parts to drug addiction: physiological addiction characterized by withdrawal symptoms and psychological addiction characterized by cravings. How does tanning fit that definition? According to a 2010 study released by SUNY Albany and Memorial Sloane-Kettering Cancer Center, tanning can be behaviorally addictive. That is, that people become addicted to the process and pattern associated with maintaining a tan via a tanning bed. The newest study done at SUNY Albany and published in the April issue of the Archives of Dermatology found evidence that takes that statement a step further: It has been found that UV radiation activates areas of the brain that play a part in addiction.

Why Tanning May be Addictive

It’s the pleasure and reward path and the brain that’s causing trouble again. Apparently, tanning can excite the neurotransmitters that fire off and cause feelings of reward and happiness. This is what happens when certain drugs of abuse are used and it’s this feeling that can be addictive. When UV light was filtered out of certain subjects in the study – unbeknownst to participants – this same brain activity was not seen, which indicates that UV radiation is responsible. Also, the urge to tan had not been fulfilled without the UV rays and participants still craved the experience. Though tan, it was the “high” or reward experience they were craving, according to the study.

Are You “Tanorexic”?

It’s a phrase meant to describe those who are addicted to tanning. Though those who qualify as “tanorexic” often say that they tan because they like the look of their skin when they keep up with it despite the harmful effects of UV radiation and potential for the development of skin cancer. Those who become concerned about skin cancer and try to cut back or give up tanning often find that it’s difficult – far more so than they expected.

It is believed that 30 million Americans tan indoors each year and that 71 percent of those are women between the ages of 16 and 29. While some tan once weekly, others tan once daily and can’t stop despite the risks. Meanwhile, the tanning industry is making money hand over fist – much like the tobacco company – by selling an image that is potentially harmful.

Are you addicted to tanning? To you believe that tanning addiction exists? Leave us a comment below and share your thoughts.

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