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Is Tanning Addiction Real?

While on the surface it may sound ridiculous, some researchers believe tanning addiction is a real medical issue.

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By Bryan Le

02/19/14

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Some may joke about the Tanning Mom, but some scientists believe addiction to tanning could be a strong indicator of two major psychological issues, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).

This new twist on tanning addiction comes from PhD student Lisham Ashrafioun and Dr. Erin Bonar of Bowling Green State University, who want to consider whether tanning should be classified as an official addiction. Other research has shown one in seven tanning bed fans will return to the tanning bed even after getting skin cancer.

"While more research is needed regarding the idea of tanning as an addiction, this study suggests that some people who tan also experience mental health symptoms that warrant further assessment," said Dr. Bonar. "Although tanning behavior could be separate and distinct from these concerns, it’s possible that the symptoms of OCD or BDD are contributing to the tanning in some way." If her claims ring true, it could pave the way for clinical treatment for alleged tanning addicts who suffer from OCD and BDD.

To attempt to answer this question, Bonar and Ashrafioun distributed a "Tanning DSM" survey based on the DSM-IV's criteria for substance abuse to 533 Bowling Green students. Around 31 percent met the criteria for tanning dependence and 12 percent qualified as problematic tanners. They also discovered a strong correlation between tanning dependence and being female or suffering from BDD and OCD.

"Previously, clinicians educated patients on the harms of tanning," said Ashrafioun. "It’s probably more than that – most people know there are harms, but they continue to do it. We need to be more focused on intervention than just telling people it’s bad for them."

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