08/11/2011 01:18 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

People Addicted To Tanning Just Like Drugs Or Booze

We're all well aware of the cancer risk from tanning beds. So what is it about those beds that keeps people going back for more?

Turns out, tanning beds might be just as addictive to certain people as drugs and alcohol.

A new study, conducted by University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center researchers, showed that an addictive "reward-and-reinforcement" reaction is stimulated in the brains of people who consider themselves frequent tanners.

"The implication is, 'If it's rewarding, then could it also be addictive?' It's an important question in the field," said researcher Dr. Bryon Adinoff in a statement.

Researchers have been wondering about the addictive properties of tanning for a while. A study published last year also showed that 30 to 40 percent of frequent tanners fulfilled the psychiatric diagnostic definition of addiction, ABC News reported.

Indeed, our understanding of psychiatric addiction is expanding. Another recent survey showed digitally dependent people who go a day without the Internet or technology experience symptoms of addiction withdrawal, like loneliness.

To study tanning beds' addictiveness, researchers divided tanners into two "occasions." In one occasion, they installed special filters to block out the ultraviolet rays, and for the second they didn't use any sort of filter. The study participants didn't know which tanning session involved the special UV ray filter.

Before and after each tanning session, the study participants were asked how much they felt like tanning, and researchers also applied a compound to the participants in order to measure the flow of blood in their brains as they tanned.

Researchers found that when the the study participants tanned without the UV ray filter, their brains had more "reward" activity and blood flow that was similar to a person addicted to drugs and alcohol, according to the study.