The use of tanning devices that emit UV radiation — a known human carcinogen — is a risk factor for most skin cancers. Although the popularity of indoor tanning beds has dropped among teens in the last decade, many young people still put themselves at risk, with about one in five adolescents having used a tanning bed in their lifetime. New research published in JAMA Dermatology suggests that teens who tan indoors are prone to participate in other risky health-related behaviors, giving parents even more cause for concern.

"This makes them an especially vulnerable group," Dr. Eleni Linos, a dermatologist with the School of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told HealthDay.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 12,000 Colorado public high school students who participated in The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. They found a strong correlation between alcohol consumption in the past 30 days, smoking, lifetime use of illicit drugs, and indoor tanning.

Heroin, methamphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, alcohol; all of them are used at higher rates in high school students who are indoor tanning,” study author Dr. Robert Dellavalle told CBS News.

Seven percent of the respondents said they used a tanning bed at least once in the past 12 months. More than two-thirds of those who tanned said they used marijuana, drank alcohol or smoked cigarettes at least once in the past 30 days compared to 35 percent of their nontanning peers. The study also found that 20.8 percent of students who tanned said they had used steroids, compared to less than 2 percent of their peers.

Researchers said their findings suggests that the path to indoor tanning addiction may be similar to substance use, in that both may develop from peer pressure and can be addictive.

“UV light releases endorphins and can stimulate, makes you feel good and some people get addicted to that feeling. That type of addiction might also be at play with people who are more prone to use recreational drugs,” Dellavalle said.

Despite the strong correlation, researchers did not find a causal link between indoor tanning and substance use. “We can’t say that one causes the other,” he added.

However, knowledge of the similarities between the addictive pathways of indoor tanning and substance use could help physicians identify risky health patterns, facilitating preventive health efforts to reduce indoor tanning among teens.

Source: Sendelweck M, Bell E, Anderson A, et al. Associations Between Indoor Tanning and Substance Use Among Colorado High School Students. JAMA Dermatology. 2016.