Tattoos have increased in popularity in recent years, and they’ve become a fairly accepted form of personal expression.
If you know someone with several tattoos, you may have heard them mention their “tattoo addiction” or talk about how they can’t wait to get another tattoo. Maybe you feel the same way about your ink.
It’s not uncommon to hear a love of tattoos referred to as an addiction. Many people believe tattoos can be addictive. (There’s even a television series called “My Tattoo Addiction.”)
But tattoos aren’t addictive, according to the clinical definition of addiction. The American Psychiatric Association defines addiction as a pattern of substance use or behavior that’s not easily controlled and can become compulsive over time.
You might pursue this substance or activity regardless of the problems it might cause and have trouble thinking about or doing anything else.
This description generally doesn’t apply to tattoos. Having a lot of tattoos, planning multiple tattoos, or knowing you want more tattoos doesn’t mean you have an addiction.
Many different reasons, some of them psychological, could drive your desire for multiple tattoos, but addiction probably isn’t one of them. Let’s look more closely at the factors that could be contributing to your desire for more ink.
Your body releases a hormone called adrenaline when under stress. The pain you feel from the tattoo needle can produce this stress response, triggering a sudden burst of energy often referred to as an adrenaline rush.
This might cause you to:
- have an increased heart rate
- feel less pain
- have jitters or a restless feeling
- feel as if your senses are heightened
- feel stronger
Some people enjoy this feeling so much that they seek it out. You can experience an adrenaline rush from the process of getting your first tattoo, so adrenaline may be one of the reasons people go back for more tattoos.
Some adrenaline-seeking behaviors might resemble compulsive or risk-taking behaviors often associated with drug addiction. You may have even heard someone call themself an “adrenaline junkie.”
But there’s no scientific evidence supporting the existence of adrenaline addiction, and the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” doesn’t list it as a diagnosable condition.
Part of the reason you want another tattoo could be that you enjoy the rush you feel when going under the needle, so you may want to take some extra time to make sure you really want that ink.
If getting another tattoo doesn’t cause you distress or put anyone else at risk, go for it.
When you’re injured or in pain, your body releases endorphins, natural chemicals that help relieve pain and contribute to feelings of pleasure. Your body also releases these at other times, such as when you’re working out, eating, or having sex.
Tattoos cause at least some pain, even if you tolerate it well. The endorphins your body releases during tattooing can make you feel good and cause a euphoric feeling. This feeling may linger for a little while, and it’s not unusual to want to experience it again.
The way endorphins affect your brain isn’t too different from the way chemical pain relievers such as opioids affect your brain.
They involve the same brain areas, so the “high” you get from endorphin release could seem similar to the feelings opioids produce. But an endorphin high happens naturally and isn’t as intense.
Wanting to feel that euphoria could play a part in your desire for another tattoo, but there’s no scientific evidence to suggest you can develop an endorphin addiction, whether your endorphin rush is related to a tattoo or to something else.
It’s a generally accepted fact that getting a tattoo will involve some level of pain.
A large, detailed, or colorful tattoo will be more painful than a small, less-detailed tattoo, but most people who get a tattoo will feel at least a little discomfort during the process.
It’s possible you enjoy the sensation of getting tattooed because of the endorphin release associated with the pain. Some people who enjoy painful sensations may find tattooing more pleasurable than uncomfortable.
Masochism, or the enjoyment of pain, could help you feel more at ease while you’re getting a tattoo, but your goal is most likely the permanent art on your body, not the brief pain you feel while you’re being tattooed.
Not everyone who gets a tattoo enjoys feeling pain. In fact, it’s more likely you’re simply willing (and able) to tolerate the pain for the sake of a piece of body art that means something to you.
Whether you enjoy the intensity of the tattoo session and the endorphins your body releases or you tolerate the needle with deep breathing exercises, there’s no research to suggest pain addiction drives people to get multiple tattoos.
Tattoos allow you to express yourself. Whether you design your own tattoo or simply describe what you want to the tattoo artist, you’re putting a permanent piece of art that you choose on your body.
Knowing the design will stay on your skin as a representation of your individuality, personality, and artistic taste can be an exciting feeling. It might even help increase your confidence and self-esteem.
Compared with clothes, hairstyles, and other types of fashion, tattoos can feel like a more significant expression of style since they’re a (relatively) permanent part of you. You might use them to symbolize a recovery journey or a personal challenge or success.
Each tattoo you get becomes part of your story, and this feeling can exhilarate you, encouraging further self-expression.
Creativity can drive an intense need to continue expressing yourself artistically through tattoos, but there’s no scientific evidence to suggest this creative urge is addictive.
Getting a tattoo can help relieve stress in a few different ways. For example, you might get one to mark the end of a difficult period in your life.
Some people also get tattoos to symbolize personal difficulties or trauma or to memorialize people they’ve lost. A tattoo can be a form of catharsis that helps them process painful emotions, memories, or other stressful feelings.
It can be easy to turn to unhealthy ways of coping with stress, such as:
But you generally don’t rush to a tattoo parlor when you feel stressed. Tattoos are expensive, and it’s not uncommon to spend months or even years planning a design.
There aren’t a lot of statistics available about tattoos, but common estimates suggest many people wait years after their first tattoo before getting a second one. This implies that getting tattooed isn’t anyone’s go-to form of stress relief. (Find tips on coping with stress here.)
If you’re planning a tattoo, you’ll want to consider the small possibility your skin could react negatively to the tattoo ink.
Even if your tattoo artist uses sterile needles and your tattoo parlor of choice is clean, licensed, and safe, you could have an allergy or sensitivity to the ink used. This isn’t common, but it can happen.
While you might face a small risk of allergic reaction or skin inflammation, scientific research hasn’t found any ingredients in the ink that pose a risk of addiction. A desire to get more tattoos most likely has nothing to do with the tattoo ink your artist uses.
Addiction is a serious mental health condition involving intense cravings for a substance or activity. These cravings usually lead you to seek out the substance or activity without caring about any possible consequences.
If you got one tattoo and enjoyed the experience, you might want to get more tattoos. You may feel like you just can’t wait to get your next one. The rush of adrenaline and endorphins you feel while being tattooed might also increase your desire for more.
Many people enjoy these and other feelings associated with getting a tattoo, but these feelings don’t represent an addiction in the clinical sense. There’s no mental health diagnosis of tattoo addiction.
Tattooing is also an intense process. It’s expensive and requires some level of planning, pain tolerance, and a time commitment. But if your love of tattoos doesn’t cause you any distress, you should feel free to express yourself however you choose.
Just be sure to choose a licensed tattoo artist and make yourself aware of possible risks and side effects before getting your first — or 15th — tattoo.