A study conducted by two scientists in the U.S. has highlighted a link between tanning addiction and the psychological disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and body dismorphic disorder (BDD).
Lisham Ashrafioun, a Bowling Green State University Ph.D. student in psychology, and Dr Erin Bonar, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan Addiction Research Centre and a BGSU alumna, conducted the research to determine why so many people are obsessed with excessive tanning.
Their paper, Tanning Addiction and Psychopathology: Further Evaluation of Anxiety Disorders and Substance Abuse also looked at whether tanning should be classified as an addiction, but according to Bonar, this complex matter will require further exploration:
“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.
“Although tanning behaviour 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. For these people, prevention messages and public health campaigns may not be as helpful, but further assessment and treatment could be.”
Bonar and Ashrafioun conducted the study by testing 533 respondents against the Tanning-DSM criteria – a modified version of substance abuse criteria provided by the 4th Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Respondents who answered yes to at least three of the eight criteria were considered tanning dependent, and 31% fell into this group.
Further analysis identified that being female and screening positive for BDD and OCD were significantly associated with tanning dependence.
Ashrafioun explains: “It may be that some individuals in our sample engage in excessive tanning because of obsessive thoughts about, or the compulsion to tan, or because tanning is a strategy for relaxation to decrease OCD symptoms.
“If problem tanning is conceptualised as an addictive disorder, obsessions and compulsions about tanning may instead represent craving to tan.”
This, Ashrafioun says, will be vital for working around failing attempts of clinicians to educate patients about the potential dangers of excessive tanning:
“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.”
If you are concerned that you have a habit that is bordering on addiction, you may benefit from hypnotherapy. To find out more about the benefits of hypnotherapy for tackling compulsive habits, please see our addictions page.
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