Getting tattooed is painful and expensive event. However, millions of people per year willingly volunteer to go through this experience more than once. Some even get hundreds of tattoos, even if it means being ostracised by conservative society. The world’s second most tattooed man, Tom Leppard, had to live 20 years as a hermit on the Isle of Skye after getting his tattoos. Could he be addicted to tattoos?
Some therapists specializing in addictions would say that he was. They suspect that the tattoos themselves are not the cause of the suspected addiction, but that the person is addicted to pain. When a person experiences pain, endorphins are released by the brain. However, people’s endorphin response varies from individual to individual as well as their tolerance for pain.
What Is An Addiction?
An addiction is basically anything that takes such precedence over a person’s life that they forsake everything to keep on feeding that addiction. For example, drug addicts are known to steal or commit other crimes in order to get money to score. An internet addict would forsake food, job and sleep for their fix. Religious addicts will sacrifice their lives and the lives of their family for their chosen deity. Addicts lack the ability to keep things in perspective.
Anything can become addictive to an individual as long as that individual continues to derive a reward from the object or experience. Although some people do indeed seem to be tattoo addicts, not everyone sporting ink is an addict or somehow a deivant like a drug addict. In some tradional societies like the Maori of New Zealand, getting tattooed is a normal part of growing up and a sign of honor.
So far there has been very little research done on people with one or more tatoos. In a 2008 study of 36 men in maximum security prisons done by the Michigan Center for Forensic Psychiatry showed that 76% of them had both tattoos in highly visible areas and anti-social personality disorder. However, this was a very small sampling of men from a very restricted part of society. Tattoos are seen as necessary to surviving prison life, depending on the prison. Even though getting tattoos are banned in many prisons, it doesn’t stop prisoners from getting them.
But even this study concludes that more studies need to be done to determine if certain personality disorders cause people, especially men, to desire tattoos. One this known ‘” tattoo removal has become its own industry. More people than ever in America and Germany want their tattoos removed ‘” especailly any designs including the names of old lovers.
The Search for Connection
According to some tattoo parlor workers and owners, the whole experience of getting a tattoo not only become pleasurable, but can help you socialize with people who understand why you would want a tattoo in the first place. After getting the tattoo, there’s a whole network of conventions, magazines and body ink admirers that you can relate to without you having to say a word. Just show your tattoo.
The choice of a tattoo is an incredibly personal experience for many people. They may use their bodies as a living canvas and view tattoos as the most personal art form there is. There are others who get tattoos to mark certain important passages in their lives such as surviving a battle or to commemorate the death of a loved one.
Unlike substances such as heroin, tattoos in and of themselves have not proven to be addictive. But how a person reacts to getting tattoos may or may not become addictive. Just because one person may claim to be addicted to tattoos, that doesn’t mean that the person will sacrifice everything ‘” including employment or family commitments — just for new ink.
ABC Affiliate KOTA Territory News. “Tattoo addiction: myth or reality?” September 18, 2009. http://www.kotatv.com/story/11159969/tattoo-addiction-myth-or-reality?redirected=true
The Positive Mind. “Pain Addiction.” http://www.thepositivemind.com/tpm/aboutpainanddullnessarticle.html
New Zealand in History. “The Maori: The Tattoo (Ta Moko).” http://history-nz.org/maori3.html
Science Daily. “Psychiatric Forensic Patients With Tattoos More Likely to Have Antisocial Personality Disorder.” July 16, 2008. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080715204734.htm
The Local: Germany’s News in English. “Tattoo removal on the rise in Germany.” 18 September 2008. http://www.thelocal.de/society/20080918-14375.html
The New York Times. “A Prison Makes the Illicit and Dangerous Legal and Safe.” Clifford Krauss. November 18, 2005. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/24/international/americas/24bath.html