Frequent Tanners May Be Addicted

Self-confessed "tan-aholic" Tara Burton admits she can't live without the beauty of the bronzed look.

She visits a tanning booth up to three times a week.

"Professionally and in your personal life, appearances are very important, and I do look sickly if I don't have a base tan," Burton said.

Whether it's soaking up rays on the beach, or going to a tanning salon, millions of Americans will do anything for that golden glow.

But doctors fear people like Burton could be physically addicted to tanning.

The 34-year-old mom is part of a recent Wake Forest University study that found some frequent users of tanning beds received a regular endorphin hit, experiencing a high similar to drugs like heroin.

"Their skin looks terrible. It's all loose, and wrinkled, and mottled-colored and leathery looking," said Steven Feldman, a professor of dermatology at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. "And you ask these people, 'Why are you doing this to yourself?' And they say, 'Ahh, it makes me feel so good.'"

Experiencing Withdrawal

In the study, frequent tanners were given a drug that blocked the pleasurable sensations that went along with the tanning-bed experience.

After their sessions, half of them suffered withdrawals.

"I got nauseous and jittery, and just kind of felt sick to my stomach," Burton said.

The tanners in the study were also given the choice of two different beds: One had UV rays and the other didn't.

Without knowing there was a difference, almost all the participants eventually gravitated toward the UV bed.

Tanning beds are big business, raking in more than $2 billion a year. And more people are using them: Thirty percent to 40 percent of 16- to 18-year-olds are tanning-bed regulars, studies show.

Burton isn't ready to give up her obsession entirely.

"It just makes me feel happier," she said. "Just like a plant that, you know, kinda grows better in a certain spot. Well, I'm in my spot."

Symptoms of Addiction

Doctors say there are three telltale signs of a tanning addiction.

The first sign is you can't stop tanning.

The second is you wake up in the morning and you can't wait to go to the tanning bed.

The third is people tell you that you have a problem and you become annoyed.

And experts say, many suffer all these symptoms, despite their doctors' warnings about skin cancer.