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Are You a Tanning Bed Junkie?

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Cancer related image Photo: Getty Images

Is using a tanning bed your guilty pleasure, despite the fact that you know doing so dramatically increases your risk of developing melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer? Or do you use a tanning bed because you just feel better after a tanning session than you did before it?

If so, it’s possible you’re a tanning bed junkie, according to a pilot study by researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Dr. Byron Adinoff, a psychiatry professor, and senior author of the study says people with a tanning bed addiction exhibit similar brain activity to people addicted to drugs and alcohol.

“Using tanning beds has rewarding effects in the brain so people may feel compelled to persist in the behavior even though they know it’s bad for them,” he says.

About 120,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed in the United States each year, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. People younger than 30 who use a tanning bed 10 times a year have eight times the risk of developing malignant melanoma skin cancer. While the public knowledge of these dangers has grown over recent years, the Foundation reports, so has the regular use of tanning beds, a $5 billion industry.

If Dr. Adinoff and his colleagues are right, UV rays are actually activating “reward” switches in the brain that significantly increases blood flow in areas of the brain implicated in addiction.

In the pilot study, regular sunbed users were asked to participate in two ten –minute sessions each. Their feelings about tanning were recorded prior and after each experience. During one session each, all the tanners weren’t really tanning. They were instead, unknowingly exposed to filtered light. The tanning bed users' brains were measured for blood flow during each session.

According to the study, published early online in Addiction Biology brains of the binge tanners exposed to the filtered light could distinguish between the two light sources as evidenced by regional cerebral blood flow.

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