This article has appeared in a few places:
Sun tanning 'addictive' suggests study via NHS news
Sunbathing 'may be addictive' warning via BBC news
That's a loaded word isn't it.
What IS addiction?
I saw a blog the other day talking about alcoholism and dismissing the claims of people that they're "addicted" to sweets...
one could understand what she was going through.
A special snowflake.
I agree on some levels, yes, I think
the term addiction is widely overused and hugely misunderstood. Just like these
articles show. I do think that people can have food addiction though and that it
can be as addictive as any other substance.
what is addiction? Every year I teach a module that addresses the cognitive,
biological and behavioural components of addiction and their relative cures.
Every year I ask students to define what addiction is, and usually the general
consensus is something like "being physically or psychologically dependent on a
I always ask whether a subtsance
is necessary for it to be an addiction - for example, computer game addictions
(that's when the WoW jokes come out from the students - yes, I play WoW, no I'm
not addicted) or physical exercise (again, another round of jokes - yes, I
exercise and no.....well....no, I'm not addicted....) can both show addictive
tendencies. So is a substance necessary? Someone always hits on the answer -
it's the substance created by the body in response to the stimulus that we're
talking about. Right. Endorphins. Seretonin. All the good
So what are these articles
Well, aside from the sensationalist
type titles (especially from the NHS site, which I'm shocked about given it
describes itself as "neutral" and "unbiased") what are they
The study shows a group of mice (MICE)
being exposed to UV light. They show increased levels of all the good things we
experience in relation to pleasure and decreased sensitivity to pain. At the end
of 6 weeks these mice show withdrawal
Right. Lets get to this
Firstly. Mice are not human. They are not even
remotely human, they're just easy to test on, they're cheap and everything is
accelerated on account of their short lifespan. Yes, they share common DNA with
us being mammalian, but they have very different physiology, psychology and
habits. One important difference is the fact that they are nocturnal animals.
Humans are not. This is a study looking at sunlight. Now, without being captain
obvious surely thats a VERY important difference. Surely an animal that has
evolved to be active during night hours will have very different responses to an
animal that has evolved to work during those sunlight
Secondly, it wasn't done on humans. j/k.
But really, it wasn't.
Secondly (for real this
time) we're assuming that cosmetic reasons can't drive us to extreme behaviour.
These scientists are trying to work out why people put themselves at risk of
skin cancer by sunbathing even though they know the risks. They can't seem to
believe that people can be driven by vanity and social expectations/social
standing. But why do people get cosmetic surgery when they're otherwise
perfectly healthy? Why do people get botox? Why do people get tattoos? Why do
people put themselves on very low calorie diets? All of these things can have
very serious side effects, but people still do them. Why? Because of social
conditioning. If you're slim you're happy. If you have perfect lips you're
pretty. If you have tattoos you're cool. If you're skinny you have no other
problems. All widely held misconceptions that lead people to do these sometimes
dangerous things for reasons of vanity and to fit into the social expectations.
at first I'd often ask myself why I'm losing weight. Well, because I want to
look good. To who? To me. Where did I get my image of looking good? Ah. Of
course now I know the health benefits of exercise and I'm doing my damnedest to
avoid becoming diabetic.
Think of all of the images you've
seen of people sunbathing. It usually denotes relaxation and luxury (rather than
sweating and discomfort from being still too long). The media alone is saturated
with these images - everyone longingly says "oh, I hate being at work on days
like this, I could be out sunbathing it would be lovely" to which I always think
"yeah, great, a headache and a way to lose at least 5Ibs of water weight in
sweat, great" but it's that "gold-mark" of relaxation. You're on holiday when
you sunbathe - you've been able to afford a holiday being one connotation. You
look healthy and glowing. I'd say vanity could well be our reason - even without
the convincing social status of
What about the benefits of being in
the sun? The increased vitamin-D? We're looking at a VERY small population of
people who sunbathe until they're at risk of damaging their skin cells. IF
sunlight was an addictive substance surely we would see much larger samples of
the population showing these behaviours and skin cancer would be through the
roof? (If that's what we're using as an indicator).
some people do show addictive characteristics to sunlight - we see them with
almost everything else, but surely those people are the exception, not the
"We have to be careful about
spectacularising this word addiction," says Carlton Erickson, who works on addiction
University of Texas at Austin, "Even if an individual truly has no
control over their compulsive behaviour – even if they experience highs and
lows, tolerance and withdrawal – that doesn't necessarily make someone an addict
," he says. A
formal diagnosis is reserved only for extreme cases of
substance abuse. "If we just look at a change in endorphins then stress and
relaxation would all be addictions too – and that minimizes the true meaning."
agree with this quote. All of these articles immediately jump on the word
addiction and it is an overused and misunderstood word. Addiction is life
consuming and usually fairly dangerous in terms of mental
Yes, this could give us some insight into how to
prevent skin cancer. Maybe it's a group of scientists overreaching and
What do you think?