NEW YORK - Sun worshipers often joke that they're junkies when it comes to catching rays, but a new study suggests there might really be something addictive about tanning.
The study's Texas-based researchers asked 145 randomly selected beach-goers at Galveston Island to answer questions adapted from two surveys typically used to screen for alcohol and substance dependence.
The surveys included such questions as, "Do you try to cut down on the time you spend in the sun, but find yourself still sun tanning?" and "Have you ever missed any scheduled activity because you decided to go the beach or tan?"
Depending on which of the two survey tools was used, 26 percent to 53 percent of the beach-goers met the criteria for a substance-related disorder with regard to ultraviolet light and tanning, the authors found.
It wasn't because the sunbathers were unaware of the link between sun exposure and skin cancer.
Those who had a sun habit said they craved the sun, sometimes thinking of tanning first thing in the morning, and couldn't control the compulsion, even when they tried to cut back.
One of the surveys was used to screen for abuse or dependence; the other was the American Psychiatric Association's criteria for substance-related disorders.
One explanation for sun bathing's addictive properties might be found in earlier reports that sun exposure can generate endogenous endorphins, or "feel-good" substances, in the skin.
Senior author Dr. Richard F. Wagner Jr., professor of dermatology at University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston., said studies have been contradictory but have suggested that people might vary in their responsiveness to or production of endorphins.
Dr. Leslie Christenson, author of a recent study that found a large increase in nonmelanoma skin cancer among people younger than age 40, said she found the paper on substance disorders intriguing but that more work needs to be done.
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