LOS ANGELES — As many as a third of young people who use indoor tanning facilities may be addicted to the behavior, researchers reported yesterday. The findings are the latest to suggest that tanning, whether natural or indoors, activates the same parts of the brain triggered by drug dependence.
The study screened college students using two standard questionnaires designed to assess addiction and modified to assess tanning behavior. Among 229 people who said they had used indoor tanning facilities in the past, 39 percent met one measure's criteria for addiction; 30 percent met the other measure's criteria.
The tanners were aware that repeated exposure to ultraviolet light, either indoors or outside, increases the risk of several types of skin cancer, including the most dangerous type, melanoma, said the study's lead author, Catherine E. Mosher, a post-doctoral research fellow in psychiatry and behavioral science at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
"They know it's bad for them," Mosher said. "This is not about appearance. It's for relaxation, to improve mood or to socialize."
The study, released yesterday in the Archives of Dermatology, also found that people who met the criteria for addiction had more symptoms of anxiety and had much higher rates of substance use than those in the study who didn't tan excessively. Among people who never tanned indoors or were not seemingly addicted to the behavior, 17 percent said they had used two or more addictive substances (such as tobacco, marijuana or stimulants but excluding alcohol) in the previous month, compared to 42 percent of those who scored positive for addiction on both of the diagnostic measures.
"There might be a similar mechanism underlying substance-use behavior and tanning behavior," Mosher said. "Both may be ways of coping with emotions. There may be similar processes in the brain involved that need to be uncovered."