Many tattooed individuals jokingly warn friends who are getting their first ink that they are addictive, and it's hard to stop with just one. This has given rise to the idea that it is possible to become addicted to tattoos. This is a bit misleading, however; addiction is extremely complicated, and while people may receive tattoos compulsively, it rarely crosses the line into truly addictive behavior.
Addiction itself can be difficult to define, and the language used to describe addition has shifted in response to more information about the way the brain works. As a general rule, an addiction is described as something that someone relies on, either physically or psychologically, and sometimes both. For example, heroin addicts develop a physical dependence to heroin because the drug actually modifies their brain chemistry, and gambling addicts are addicted to the process and experience of gambling on a psychological level.
When someone becomes addicted to something, he or she can engage in behavior that is harmful in pursuit of the experience or chemical required to satisfy physical or emotional needs. Addicts have difficulty prioritizing their life choices, opting for another hit of an addictive substance rather than the payment of a utility bill, for example. They persist with their behavior despite the physical, economic, and social consequences.
The tattooing process is certainly emotionally and physically intense. Some people get them for complex personal reasons, and the experience of designing and inking a tattoo can be filled with meaning. Physically, the process causes the body to release high levels of endorphins to cope with the pain, the same endorphins which are released during strenuous physical exercise and other periods of physical stress. Many people say that actions like running make them feel good, thanks to the endorphin release.
In order for someone to be considered addicted to tattoos, he or she would have to become physically or emotionally dependent on the process. In some cases, this may happen. Some people use tattoos to dull emotional pain, for example, while others may become attached to the rush of endorphins released during the inking process. If someone chooses to get a new one rather than coping with a situation, or pays for a tattoo before securing the rent, he or she may be addicted.
Becoming truly addicted to tattoos is, in all probability, extremely rare. People with multiple tattoos can cite a variety of reasons for wanting several pieces of artwork on their body, with ones commemorating various life events or symbolizing important concepts to the wearer. Because of the complex social and personal issues that surround tattooing, it can be hard to distinguish true addiction from a simple aesthetic appreciation. Since some people are accustomed to negative reactions to their body art, they may also be resistant to a suggestion that they are addicted and in need of treatment, which is something to consider before staging an intervention.