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Tanorexia – Not a Joke

by | Addiction, Conditions and Disorders, Latest News, Life

Home Addiction Tanorexia – Not a Joke

Many people ignore the risks of tanning in an effort to reap the benefits. Over the past several years I’ve heard young people throw the term “tanorexic” around loosely in different contexts. Senior year of high school many of the girls would jokingly diagnose another girl as “tanorexic” after repeated trips to the tanning bed over several weeks’ time. I sometimes wonder if I had a tanning addiction at one point — I knew the risks and dangers, yet couldn’t stay away from the local Tanorama throughout college. If only I had a time machine I’d race back and not only skip the artificial UV rays, I’d warn my fellow students about the risk of tanning. Or at least direct them to a spray-tan venue.
Turns out I’m not the only one who has considered tanning as a legitimate addiction. An article by Liz Szabo in USA today states, “The cause of [a tanning] addiction could be endorphins, the body’s ‘feel good’ molecules, which are released in response to UV light.” She referenced an excerpt from a study conducted by dermatologist Steven Feldman of the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. His study included a control group and was successful in discovering that experienced tanners could tell the difference between real tanning beds and fake tanning beds. “Even though they look identical,” Feldman says, “when twelve regular tanners were given a choice between two machines in an experiment, people chose the UV bed 95% of the time.” This is staggering. I completely related when I read that study participants responded to the experiment by defending their tanning bed choice due to its relaxing properties. It’s hard to ignore the addictive properties associated with tanning in a case like this, yet many lobbyists and officials associated with the tanning industry continue to claim immunity against the “addiction” argument.
Endorphins help relieve pain and cause the natural “runner’s high” that people feel after rigorous exercise. It’s hard to maintain that people can’t become addicted to a tanning bed if we have already accepted the concept that addictive motivations contribute to long distance runners’ adherence to their running schedules.
In another small experiment with frequent tanners, Feldman found that blocking endorphins can produce symptoms similar to narcotic withdrawal, such as nausea, sweating and nervousness, Feldman says. It sounds like we have evidence for a beefy argument against Stuart Gitlow, an addiction specialist from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Gitlow states, “People who tan in spite of a potential cancer risk aren’t addicted, he says. “On the other hand, if I were to do so despite having skin cancer and a narrow brush with death, now we’re talking about addictive disease. In the same way, all drinkers aren’t alcoholics. A person is clearly an addict, however, if he or she continues to drink even after alcohol causes serious harm, such as losing a job or spouse.” Gitlow’s oversimplified conclusion is that, “the difference between addicts and non-addicts is that non-addicts learn that the lit match will burn them. Addicts, on the other hand, think, ‘This time, the match won’t burn me.’ ” His cliche example makes a valid point, though. It’s hard to draw the line between unhealthy behaviors and behaviors truly indicative of addiction. For now, the controversy continues without concrete answers. You’re free to make your own judgment based on the studies out there. I happen to stand by my belief that Tanorexia is a real disease that manifests itself out of the predisposition toward an addictive personality/brain combining forces with highly addictive feelings that tanning beds provide.