Are Tattoos Addictive?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on December 8, 2019
    Last Updated: November 27, 2020

We’ve all seen those people inked from neck to knee. Tattoos are increasing in popularity. For personal reasons, artistic reasons, or even to become a tattoo model, people can’t seem to quit the ink.

When you see people itching for a new tattoo when they just got inked last month, you start to wonder. Is there something deeper going on here? Here are the basics.

There’s no actual evidence that tattoos are addictive in the traditional sense of the word. Even so, tattoos release adrenaline and endorphins, creating a positive emotional response. People often seek validation through their tattoos, and substance-wise, tattoos aren’t addictive psychologically — it depends on the individual.

Possibly Addictive Substances

When you get a tattoo, ink is injected into your skin. Before that, your skin is cleaned, sometimes with rubbing alcohol. Could there be addictive components in either?

Rubbing Alcohol

Everyone knows alcoholism is a problem that many people face. Alcohol is a drug, is addictive and used everywhere. You can find traces of alcohol in:

  • Mouthwash
  • Hot sauce
  • Sugarless gums as the sweetener
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Skincare products
  • Nail polish remover

Rubbing alcohol is made from isopropyl alcohol, but it’s not like regular alcohol — it’s worse! Drinking rubbing alcohol can kill you.

There’s an argument to be made for this substance being addictive when tattoos are involved — it’s on your skin, and you’re then injected with needles. In theory, the needles could force the alcohol into your bloodstream and cause addiction.

However, considering that drinking it is deadly; if it entered your bloodstream directly, you’d be dead. And thus, we can eliminate rubbing alcohol as a reason for tattoo addiction. 

Is Ink Addictive?

Tattoo inks are made of two things: a carrier and a colorant. The carrier is sometimes alcohol-based, but we’ve already crushed that theory of addiction.

So what’s in the colorant? Often, potentially dangerous heavy metals, such as mercury, lead and cadmium, as well as many others.

Again, in high doses, these things are damaging, as rubbing alcohol is. You’re more likely to be ill or dead than addicted.

But what about other ingredients, especially animal derivatives, such as glycerin, bone char and beeswax?

Vegetable glycerin is often used in e-cigarettes, but it’s not addictive. Furthermore, tattoo inks usually use glycerin made from animal fat. E-cigarettes use vegetable glycerin.

Conclusion? The ink is no less addictive than alcohol. You’re safe from addictive substances when getting a tattoo.

The Mentality of Getting a Tattoo

Studies have shown that tattoos boost confidence. The inked feel empowered. You could argue that the more ink you get, the more confident you feel.

That may be the case for some, yet we seek validation from others all the time. A lot of that ties into the way we look — you know that feeling you get when someone compliments your new hair or item of clothing. It’s the same with tattoos, and for many of us, tattoos are a bigger deal than a new suit or dress.

This addiction to rewards via compliments is most definitely real and goes a long way to explain whether tattoos are addictive or not. Let’s not forget the intrinsic reward of getting a tattoo, though.

For some, it’s a big challenge to brave the tattoo process. Since it’s also still seen as taboo to many, doing something against the grain can fill someone with a sense of pride. That buzz and feeling of fulfillment are most definitely addictive.

The Body’s Reaction

Adrenaline rushes can happen for almost anything and is part of the fight or flight reaction. Could this also relate to getting a tattoo?


Adrenaline is a hormone secreted when your body is under stress. It increases your heart rate and, therefore, your blood pressure. It alters your lungs, so you breathe faster, and triggers blood vessels to direct blood towards major muscles, making them feel stronger. This is an adrenaline rush.

Your body is in overdrive. You have so much energy. You feel incredible. The body thinks it’s under threat, but you know you’re fine. A foreign object is penetrating the skin and setting off the nerve endings, though, and the result is the adrenaline to prepare to survive.

This incredible feeling can be triggered by any threat to the body. That could be an extreme sport for some, or something as simple as getting a tattoo for others.


Another thing that comes out to play when the body is stressed is endorphins. They’re especially released when you’re in pain, and tattoos hurt!

Endorphins trigger positive feelings. For those who like to work out, you know that feeling after a great workout? That’s your endorphins at work. Wouldn’t it be nice to feel like that all the time?

If getting inked releases endorphins, that’s one sure way to feel that endorphin-induced high, and a clear indicator why tattoos might be addictive.


Dopamine makes you feel happy, and your brain releases dopamine as a reward. A finish line, meeting a deadline or seeing your new tattoo complete — they all trigger dopamine.

A study suggests dopamine is also released during times of pain. It acts as an interface between pain and stress, emotional and physical. Tattoos cause pain, which triggers the release of dopamine.

Dopamine, in itself, is widely said to be addictive. This is false, but it’s a motivator that plays a role in addiction. It may motivate people to get more and more tattoos, making it seem more like an addiction.

Dopamine motivating people to get tattoos is essentially motivating them to get another dopamine high. It keeps sending you to the needle.

Self Expression and Art

In this rigid, corporate world, there are few ways we can express ourselves. Everyone is expected to look and act a certain way. Society wants sheep, not people. Tattoos give us the ability to escape that and an addictive surge when we feel like we’re resisting.

Hidden under our professional, fancy clothes are flowers and rainbows and skulls and names. Our uniqueness is hidden within us; now, it’s hidden underneath our clothes, too. With short sleeves, we can reveal we’re special.

Artists can create their art not on canvas, but on the skin, for all the world to see. For many, this is a big pull towards the repetitive tattoo lifestyle.

We Can’t Say for Sure If They’re Addictive or Not

People with and without tattoos often have different personalities. This makes whether it’s an addiction subjective. Most alcoholics you meet will say they can stop any time they want. A lot of people who are just heavy drinkers, not addicted, say the same thing. Those who don’t drink will view both as alcoholics. 

At the End of the Day

As tattoo popularity continues to rise, there aren’t enough studies on this subject for now. We can’t say for certain whether tattoos are addictive or not. All we can do is examine the elements that could go into making them so.

In a way, it’s a very individual experience. Some people have addictive personalities; others just love art. Then, of course, there will be a few who do it for the rush, and that’s okay, too. Tattoo addiction —or non-addiction — isn’t harmful, so long as everyone stays safe.