Tattoo Addiction: Can You Really Get Addicted To Getting Tattoos?

Written by: Pete
Updated:

I’m sure you’ve heard it from friends or family who have already been tattooed: “Once you get one, you can’t stop!” So is being addicted to ink a real thing? What is tattoo addiction and is there real science behind the concept? We’ve got all the myths and facts here, for you.

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What Is Addiction and Is Ink Addictive?

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is defined as, “a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences.“

By this clinical definition, scientifically, getting tattooed isn’t an addiction, so long as it doesn’t have harmful consequences on your life. Harmful consequences that could result from excessive tattooing might be financial instability, using the pain as an avoidance or escape from reality or as self-harm, hyper-focusing on your next tattoo, or insecurity and self-esteem issues (external approval), though this is not very common.

People can become addicted to things that trigger:

  • Happy feelings
  • Distraction from real life/escape
  • Adrenaline rushes
  • A sense of reward
  • A lack of concern over consequences

With that being said, the process of getting a tattoo could become addictive for some people.

The Mentality of Getting a Tattoo

The fact of the matter is that tattooing does release both adrenaline and endorphins in people. These cause an emotional response and a deep sense of reward for both overcoming the pain of the process as well as pride in the finished outcome.

Sometimes, the pain can also be a trigger to continue pursuing more tattoos. Psychologist Dr. Sal Raichbach says, “Many people who claim they are addicted to tattoos and body modification find that the physical pain of these experiences is a big part of what drives them to seek more. These individuals are likely referring to the surge in brain chemicals that the body naturally releases to deal with physical pain. These are the same mechanisms that lead to addiction to drugs and alcohol, but the body does not become dependent on these behaviors as it would with substance abuse."

What Makes People Want More Tattoos? The Body’s Response

There are big changes going on inside when you get a tattoo that could potentially lead to you wanting to get more.

  • Adrenaline -  This is what is released by your body during a fight, flight, or freeze response. The adrenaline rush of a tattoo is especially high at the beginning of your session and then begins to crash as it extends. This reaction leads to increased heart rate, greater tolerance to pain, heightened senses, and a sensation of being stronger than you actually are. It can sometimes feel euphoric to have an adrenaline rush!
  • Endorphins - These are your naturally occurring stress-release chemicals in the body. Endorphins are also released during physical exercise and even sexual activity. It can lower sensations of pain and give you a blissful feeling that is compared to feeling on top of the world, or very emotionally comfortable. Some people get a lot of pride from the neurological reward of this chemical and become addicted to that pride.
  • Dopamine - These are the “happy pills” that exist inside you in a natural chemical format! Studies suggest that dopamine is often released to counteract pain, and the process of tattooing is obviously very painful.

Knowing all the chemicals that can be released to your brain during a tattoo session, it’s easier to understand why the process of tattooing might become addictive. Essentially, it’s like being on drugs which we all know and understand to be extremely addictive!

But according to psychologist Dr. Daniel Selling, “The word addiction in the context of tattoos is misused…while you can’t have a tattoo addiction, per se, it can be a dependence where you feel some elements of need and withdrawal…and perhaps spend too much time or money getting work…Being tattooed can also lead to an adrenaline rush of sorts. It’s the body tolerating annoyance and pain coupled with excitement and change.”

Other Factors That May Influence “Addiction to Ink”

According to tattoo artist Lisa Orth, sometimes it’s the openness of self-expression and personal creativity that feels “addictive” to people who get tattoos.

She says, “It’s an incredible feeling to be able to permanently customize yourself with artwork. [The] feeling of self-expression can be an empowering experience… It’s one of the main reasons [my] clients come back again and again. Tattooing can be a way of engaging with, and taking possession of, one’s body in an active way… [It] can allow people to define themselves visually in a way that forces the observer to see a person as they most authentically see themselves. That’s a big draw (so to speak) for those who repeatedly get inked…Getting tattooed is one of the remaining rituals in our culture that are physical, mental, and emotional challenges, where you come out transformed on the other side.”

In addition, another factor that may come into play is when tattoos are used to help release or let go of traumatic events. In fact, an entire research study was shared at PsychCentral related to this idea, called, Tattoos After Trauma - Do They Have Healing Potential? So long as the tattoo is used to close a chapter but not bury the need to do actual healing work, then it should not become an addictive or dangerous practice.

Our Final Thoughts

From a medical perspective, tattoo addiction is not a real thing. But from a personal healing, expression, and passionate point of view, a love of ink may arise. Addiction implies dependency, and so long as getting excessively tattooed is not the cause of harmful consequences, you can safely continue to indulge in your ink.

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