We crave tattoos the way other people crave chocolate or a cigarette. If you have ever gotten the tattoo bug, you know it’s hard not to completely cover your physical real estate in only a couple of years.
Okay, but is it just a social thing? Who can collect the coolest or most tattoos? Undoubtedly, but it’s also a sciencey thing. There are many reasons for tattoos being addicting, which only makes them that much more intriguing because there are so many reasons to get one!
What Is the Science Behind Tattooing?
Do you know what goes on inside your body when you get a tattoo? Do you know getting a tattoo creates a chemical reaction in your body? And it can feel good.
Even though you asked, paid, and sat down for your tattoo — when that needle pricks your skin, your body responds as if you are being attacked. The body gets stressed, and the brain tells the body to release adrenaline and endorphins. Yeah baby! It can actually feel awesome, but what’s really going on there?
Adrenaline (aka epinephrine) is that chemical that makes a mouse fight back against a cat when it’s under attack. With a burst of adrenaline, you’ll feel like a mini Hulk. Less pain, more energy, heightened senses.
Endorphins are also getting pumped into your system. These guys are usually released when you work out, get cuddly with someone, or eat something yummy. They are pain-relievers and pleasure-inducers.
So yeah, on a certain level getting a tattoo is chemically addicting. If you have a few tattoos or fond memories of your first one, your brain will note that it gives you a nice kick when you do that whole tattoo thing. You’ll want more.
Tattoos as an Emotional Practice
Is pain pleasurable for you? Can you enter the meditative state more easily to the sound of a tattoo machine?
Some people find solace in the tattoo needle. We always hear about pain and tattooing. For some people, this isn’t the case. Maybe it hurts but a feeling that is beyond the pain overcomes them.
It’s kind of like working out. When you bench press the same weight for the past month, you may feel like it’s gotten too easy. It’s time to move up, so you try a heavier weight. It’s not easy to get the reps in, but no pain, no gain, baby! Something similar goes for tattoo addicts.
We’ve heard stories of people finding peace while getting tattooed—falling asleep in the chair or finally having a moment without thoughts, lulled by the buzz of the needle. Weird but true! For some people, it’s truly peaceful to receive a tattoo. And numbing products will definitely make for a more peaceful experience.
There are a lot of artists who even have ritual practices. We’ve sat before artists as they’ve energetically cleansed us before the tattoo session or sang hymns while giving a stick and poke.
Some people get tattoos to attract good energy, ward off bad energy, or remind them of a specific spiritual practice. Energetically healing tattoos sound pretty badass to us.
Tattoo as Art Collection
Some people collect stamps, others collect signed basketballs, and then there are tattoo collectors. If you could buy a Salvador Dali painting, wouldn’t you? Collecting tattoos is like collecting beautiful paintings, except you get to take them to the grave.
While most tattoo artists don’t have history books written about them, it doesn’t mean their work isn’t as prolific. You can debate us on this, but art is subjective—that’s the point!
Some people are addicted to collecting tattoos from awesome artists. They just hang the art on their skin instead of on the walls of their home. Well, skin is kind of like the walls of your home, right? The body is your first and last home, after all.
As the tattoo industry flourishes, more and more artists transition into tattooing as their favored medium—and damn, are they good at what they do! What blows our mind is the cost difference.
A stellar painting from a mildly popular artist could run you $20,000 easily. A tattoo from an equally stellar artist could run you $2000, depending on the size. That’s quite a bargain.
Tattoos as a Passion Project
Some are making their body a singular work of art. We would consider this less an addiction and more a passion, no?
Do you have a friend who seems to be going to the tattoo studio monthly? What are they getting done? Maybe your friend has a full sleeve or leg they’re getting tattooed. Or is it that back piece? Or the whole dang body—ouch!
There are some very famous, fully tattooed people. There is the late Rick Genest, totally tattooed complete with a skull face tattoo. His passion paid off as he ended up in a Lady Gaga video and Thierry Mugler’s fashion show.
If you’re going for a full-body tattoo, chances are it will hurt. A lot of the professionally tattooed don’t even enjoy the actual tattoo session and end up using a numbing gel to be able to get their work of art finished. They are truly in it for the art – not the pain-as-pleasure moment some crave.
Tattoos as Social Clout
Tattoos are trendy. You can’t get around it. It doesn’t matter how much you are doing it for yourself – tattoos are cool. They are great icebreakers and question creators.
People love to ask what they mean, who did it, how you thought of it, and many other questions. You make acquaintances with people you’d never thought you would.
Tattoos create conversation. I mean, what did you expect? It is a wearable piece of art. Dope.
Tattoos also create camaraderie. Are you a die-hard fan of something? Maybe you have a specific tattoo of album art, a chemical compound, an animal, or a religious quote. People in the same fan club as you will recognize your tattoo and probably tell you they’re a fan too.
Well, some. Here’s a way to earn a quick buck: Get a tattoo on your butt. The tattoo is the text, “your name.” Then make a bet with someone that you have “your [their] name” tattooed on your butt. It’s a great way to make some money (or look like an idiot), but both are a good time.
Tattoos are addicting but not like some other things. Getting a tattoo will give you a nice chemical kick in the pants, releasing some adrenaline and endorphins so you might remember the experience fondly even if it hurts.
Emotionally, the tattoo feeling can stick around longer than those chemicals can. Some find themselves addicted to the emotions that getting a tattoo brings up and will be reminded every time they look at their new tattoo.
You could also be a collector—addicted to the chase of getting the best possible art for your skin canvas. And then, there’s getting a tattoo for the conversation, camaraderie, envy, or maybe a laugh.
Yeah. Tattoos are super fun, and there are a million reasons to get one or twelve. But don’t worry about your grandma or kid going overboard after just one tattoo. It’s not like some gateway tattoo (usually). Tattoos are addicting, but there’s no reason to rehab. Maybe just take the credit card away.
Salvador Dalí | National Gallery of Art
Epinephrine - StatPearls | NCBI Bookshelf