Are Tattoos Addictive?

tattooAt Eden Recovery and Rehabilitation Centre we frequently get asked whether tattoos can be addictive or not.  Tattoos are an ever more present occurrence in our modern age. Views and opinions regarding tattoos have steadily changed over the last 40 years.

Since the dawn of man people have been etching tattoos into their skin. These marks served as status symbols, amulets, and signs of religious beliefs or love, punishment and even for medicinal purposes. Traditionally tattoos carry with them a negative stigma. This is due to the fact that majority of a given population associated tattoos with evil, criminality and deviant behaviour. Recently more and more people decide to get a tattoo or continually return to the needle for more ink. Some believe this is due to a younger generation that view tattoos as a way to control their identities and express their creativity.

Reasons why a person might be addicted to a tattoo?

Physiological Theories

At Eden Recovery and Rehabilitation Centre we often hear myths or well justified arguments why people believe that tattoos are addictive. One of the arguments explains that based on a physiological level people get addicted to the pain they endure during the process of a tattoo. There is no real scientific proof to substantiate this argument; however people can get a natural “high” from the adrenaline and endorphins being released by the brain. The release of these chemicals is in response to the pain caused by the needle. Another compelling physiological argument is called the pain substitution theory. This theory states that a person might be drawn to a tattoo time and time again due to the self-mutilation factor. It states that a person will engage in this practice, because they find a sense of control when causing themselves pain. At Eden Rehabilitation we believe that this is used in a therapeutic capacity where one would use physical pain to relieve emotional or mental stress.

Psychological Theories

When we talk about tattoo addiction at Eden Recovery and Rehabilitation Centre we always consider possible psychological theories. These theories provide us with valuable and potential substantiation as to why people choose body art. Many psychological theories suggest that attention and self-expression can play a vital role in acquiring a new tattoo. The vast majority of people that are “inked” use tattoos as a form of artistic expression. Each tattoo has a meaning which is significant to the person wearing it. In some cases it can be as simple as “I thought it was beautiful”. At Eden Recovery Centre we understand that regardless of the intent behind the tattoo, the owner of his or her new ink finds it possible to use artwork on their bodies as a satisfying way of expressing who they believe they are.

More psychological theories include the aspect of spirituality. For decades Japanese artists considered their work to bring about spiritual awakening. In modern times people can use religious icons to express their devotion to their beliefs. For a part of the population tattoos can serve as a therapeutic tool after traumatic events. During this process a tattoo is used to commemorate or celebrate an event or a person in their life. This tattoo can then lead to therapeutic growth. In a qualitative study done in 2016 it was found that tattoos can serve as a form of therapy.

Other Theories

Less well known theories can add their weight to the discussion on whether tattoos can be addictive or not. One such theory suggests that people become addicted to the collection of tattoos. This suggests an aspect of compulsive hoarding. Other theories believe that people often get tattoos because it is seen as an organizational obligation. This means that it might be mandatory for people who form part of prison gangs or biker groups to get new ink.

At Eden Recovery and Rehabilitation Centre we believe that addiction is a compulsion which a person has no self-control over. Most of the time addiction is not the reason why many people get several tattoos. Most individuals get body art because they want to get them and not because they need to get them.

All the theories give compelling reasons why any individual might want to get a tattoo or more tattoos. But these theories do not provide any scientific proof that a tattoo can be addictive. However what people can get out of a tattoo for example pain, reactions, acceptance, self-expression or even healing can be considered as potentially addictive. The argument regarding tattoo addiction is ongoing. The simple answer is that we don’t know whether tattoos are addictive or not. At Eden we believe that it is too early in terms of research to say whether a tattoo can be seen specifically as an addiction.

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