A pilot study suggests people hooked on tanning beds may be victims of an addictive neurological reward-and-reinforcement trigger.
Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center believe the physiological addiction could explain why some people continue to use tanning beds despite the increased risk of developing melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer.
According to the researchers, tanning aficionados have similar brain activity and corresponding cerebral blood flow as that found in people addicted to drugs and alcohol. Similar findings have been reported for other compulsive behaviors such as gambling.
“Using tanning beds has rewarding effects in the brain so people may feel compelled to persist in the behavior even though it’s bad for them,” said psychiatrist Dr. Bryon Adinoff, senior author of the study, available online and in a future print edition of Addiction Biology.
“The implication is, ‘If it’s rewarding, then could it also be addictive?’ It’s an important question in the field.”
Experts say that about 120,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. People younger than 30 who use a tanning bed 10 times a year have eight times the risk of developing malignant melanoma.
Curiously, while public knowledge of the risk of melanoma has grown, so has the regular use of tanning beds.
Addiction treatment is evolving toward an approach that views the behavior as a complex disease caused by a physical or physiological imbalance rather than a psychological weakness. If correct, this could explain the failure of behavioral interventions.
As such, Adinoff and his research team plan to continue their study of brain activity and cerebral blood flow changes associated with the addictive behavior.
Source: UT Southwestern Medical Center