Brains of Tanning Bed Users Similar to Brains of Addicts

According to recent research, the brains of people who frequent tanning beds behave very similarly to the brains of alcoholics and drug addicts.

According to recent research, the brains of people who frequent tanning beds behave very similarly to the brains of alcoholics and drug addicts.

The research, performed by researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center, showed a connection between tanning and an addictive neurological reward-and-reinforcement trigger.

Senior author of the study and professor of psychiatry, Dr. Bryon Adinoff, reported that “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. The implication is, ‘If it’s rewarding, then could it also be addictive?’ It’s an important question in the field.”

The researchers had their participants use tanning beds two times, but during one visit, the researchers replaced the ultraviolet radiation emitted by tanning beds with special filters which prevent exposure to ultraviolet radiation.

Participants were not told whether they received a true tanning session or the filtered ultraviolet exposure session. Before and after both sessions, participants were asked to rate their desire to tan. The researchers also administered a compound to the participants in order to measure brain blood flow during the tanning session.

The researchers observed that the true ultraviolet rays stimulated the brain activity and blood flow of the participants in a manner that mimicked what is seen in addicts.

Dr. Adinoff, who also is a staff physician at the Veterans Affairs North Texas Health Care System, said the next step is to create technology to further study brain changes among frequent tanners.

Howard Markel, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan who was not involved in the study, stated that "anything that gives us pleasure and stimulates the limbic system of the brain has the potential to be addictive in the sense that we do it to excess and with harmful consequences.”

According to the Skin Care Foundation, nearly 120,000 cases of melanoma are diagnosed in America every year; further, individuals below the age of thirty who frequent a tanning bed ten times per year suffer eight times the risk of developing malignant melanoma.

Still, despite the widespread knowledge of the dangers of tanning beds, the regular use of them has actually increased.

This study is available online and will be in a print edition of Addiction Biology.