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Link between indoor tanning and substance abuse

Posted at 10:40 AM, Jan 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-25 10:40:14-05

DENVER - Tanning beds have been linked to cancers such as melanoma, but a new study by researchers at CU Anschutz is now finding a new link between indoor tanning and drug addiction.

“We were surprised by the association between recreational drug use and indoor tanning among high school students,” said Dr. Robert Dellavalle, Associate Professor of Dermatology with the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Researchers say both indoor tanning and drug use activate addictive pathways in the brain. “We were also surprised by the strength, how associated these two things were,” Dr. Dellavalle said.

Researchers gave a behavioral health survey to more than 12,000 high school students in Colorado and say risky behaviors seem to go hand in hand with indoor tanning.

Amy Spearman, who uses tanning beds frequently, said her love of tanning first began at a very young age.

“I started probably at 14 or 15. I was a cheerleader in high school so I tanned every lunch hour that I could. I love it because it's kind of like a warm nap,” Spearman said.

But it is that warm and fuzzy feeling and the brain releasing endorphins that can prove so addicting.

“It can be an addiction,” she said, “Sure I can relate to that.”

And it's not just women. Researchers found a strong association between anabolic steroid use and indoor tanning as well, especially among men.

The World Health Organization has deemed UV radiation as a group 1 carcinogen putting users at a higher riskk of melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.