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Drugs, Alcohol ... Tanning?

March 15, 2007
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Despite repeated health warnings about the dangers of tanning from sunlight and artificial light sources, there are still those whose mantra "bronzed is beautiful" remains unshaken.

Dermatologists have long suspected that some people may be addicted to tanning -- similar to addictions to drugs or alcohol --and refuse to alter their behaviors, even knowing they have an increased risk of developing skin cancer. Now, a new study of college co-eds indicates that some people may be addicted to ultraviolet light.

In the report, "UV Light Abuse and High-Risk Tanning Behavior Among Undergraduate College Students," published in the current issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, dermatologist Robin L. Hornung, M.D., MPH, FAAD, division of dermatology at the University of Washington and the Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle, used a standardized testing tool to gauge the presence of a substance-related disorder as a means to determine whether some college students could be hooked on tanning.

"Numerous studies have shown that increased knowledge of the dangers of overexposure to U.V. light often fails to change tanning behavior and attitudes, especially among high-risk age groups, such as adolescents and young adults," explained Hornung.

"We also know from previous experiments that U.V. light causes endorphin release, similar to the euphoric sensation associated with intense exercise commonly referred to as 'runner's high' or other pleasure-seeking behavior. Our study set out to find whether certain individuals, particularly those who classify themselves as frequent tanners, exhibit addictive behaviors toward tanning."

Hornung and her collaborator, Solmaz Poorsattar, asked 385 male and female college students at the University of Washington in Seattle to complete a multiple-choice questionnaire that included questions about their personal tanning practices and those of their family and friends. In addition, four questions in the survey also comprised a modified version of the cut down, annoyed, guilty, eye-opener (CAGE) questionnaire tool.

CAGE, which is a proven testing tool most often used to identify SRD with regard to alcohol, was used to determine whether participants showed symptoms of an SRD to U.V. light. Only students who reported ever purposely tanning were asked to complete this portion of the questionnaire.

The four modified CAGE questions that were measured included:

· "Have you ever felt you ought to cut down on your tanning?"

· "Have people annoyed you by criticizing your tanning?"

· "Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your tanning?"

· "Have you ever thought about tanning first thing in the morning?"

Of the 385 students who participated in the study, 76 percent of female students reported purposely tanning their skin vs. 59 percent of male students. In addition, 42 percent of the female students reported using indoor tanning devices compared to only 17 percent of the male students.

When the responses to the CAGE questions were examined, 12 percent of the total sample of students, 18 percent of the students who reported regularly tanning in outdoor sunlight and 28 percent of indoor tanners scored positively on the CAGE questions -- indicating SRD with regard to U.V. light.

Said Hornung: "Our finding that 18 percent of the students who admitted to purposely tanning their skin scored positively on the CAGE questionnaire is significant, not only because it indicates the probable existence of SRD with respect to U.V. light but because this percentage is comparable with findings of other addiction studies." 

 

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