Can You Become Addicted To Tanning?

A few weeks back, Consumerist readers voted overwhelming in favor of requiring parental consent for children using tanning beds, and a new study linking regular tanning to addictive behavior may back up your sense of caution on the matter.

In a study published in Archives of Dermatology, researchers say that, much like with other addicts, there are some people who will continue to tan even after experience the negative effects of too much tanning.

Researchers talked to 229 students who use indoor tanning beds and around 30-40% of those polled met the psychiatric diagnostic criteria for addiction. In addition to feeling compelled to tan, the study found that these people also claimed to have more symptoms of anxiety and admitted to a higher level of alcohol and marijuana use.

“I think there’s growing evidence that it can be addicting for a minority of individuals,” says Catherine Mosher, a clinical psychologist and one of the study’s authors. “Addiction is a very complex phenomenon, and it will take evidence from multiple sources to validate the idea that it is an addiction.”

ABC News spoke a 27-year-old woman whose uncle died from skin cancer but who continued to tan regularly until she was diagnosed with a melanoma:

“I absolutely believe that I was addicted to tanning,” said 27-year-old melanoma survivor Kristi Setzer, who said she began a tanning regimen to look good for her wedding in 2006.

“I felt that I would look thinner and not blend in with my wedding dress,” Setzer, now a law student, recalled.

After going tanning, she estimates, almost every day for a year before her wedding, she continued afterward, despite better than average knowledge of its possible effects.

“I knew that melanoma had serious consequences,” Setzer said. “My uncle actually died after a battle with melanoma, but even though I knew that, I felt compelled to go tan.

“Even after my wedding I continued indoor tanning until August of 2008, when I received my diagnosis of melanoma,” she said.

Despite the anecdotal data, many doctors are cautious to label tanning as addictive without further research.

“It takes a long time to formally classify something as an addiction,” said Suzette Glasner-Edwards, a clinical psychologist and researcher at UCLA. “Typically it takes a lot of research studies to see if all the symptoms… really conform to how we understand addiction to other things. It’s a pattern of progressively losing control over a behavior… If they don’t have impairment in their life as a result of it, then they won’t get that diagnosis.”

Study Shows Links Between Tanning and Addictive Behavior [ABC News]