Plastic surgery is an invasive procedure that comes with some risks and discomfort. Many people hope to avoid surgery unless medically necessary, but for some people, plastic surgery can be an exciting and even addictive experience.
People seeking plastic surgery are often unhappy with some aspect of their appearance. The thought of surgery can relieve some of the anxiety they feel about the way they look. While the desire to have multiple plastic surgeries can seem like an addiction, the underlying cause may be better explained by a psychiatric condition called body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).
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What Is Plastic Surgery Addiction?
While having multiple cosmetic surgeries may seem like an addiction, the underlying reason is usually tied to BDD. It is characterized by an obsession with appearance, or with specific flaws that are either real or imagined. Body dysmorphia can cause significant distress and prevent people from going out, keeping jobs or otherwise living their lives in a healthy way.
Plastic surgery is seen as a way to fix flaws or imperfections that are distressing to someone with BDD. In this way, plastic surgery is seen as a result of BDD obsessions, rather than as an addiction. While surgery is seen as a way to improve body dysmorphia, it often fails to improve symptoms or can even make them worse.
Importantly, not all people who have plastic surgery have BDD, although BDD is more common among people who have cosmetic surgery. Between 7% to 15% of people who undergo plastic surgery are thought to struggle with BDD.
Plastic Surgery Addiction Facts
The facts about plastic surgery addiction show that BDD can affect men and women of all ages. It tends to affect men and women equally but is more common at a younger age. The rate of BDD in the general population is thought to be around 2.4% in the United States.
While many people with body dysmorphia seek plastic surgery, they are often not satisfied with the results. It may be more common to seek surgery than psychiatric help, and people suffering from body dysmorphic disorder may not recognize that this is the underlying cause.
Surgery is not an effective treatment strategy for body dysmorphic disorder, and patients struggling with the condition will typically benefit from psychological interventions like cognitive behavioral therapy.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder Symptoms
People with body dysmorphic disorder experience symptoms that can cause significant distress. These signs and symptoms can include:
- Obsessing over appearance
- Compulsive mirror checking
- Experiencing significant distress over a small or nonexistent flaws
- Covering up or masking one’s appearance
- Seeking appearance-related affirmation
People who appear to be addicted to plastic surgery may have an diagnosed mental health disorder. Among people with BDD, surgery may act as a temporary fix for their appearance concerns. However, symptoms usually return after undergoing surgery, or the person’s fixation may shift to a new part of their appearance.
This cycle can be the cause of multiple surgeries. However, an addiction to plastic surgery does not mean that there is a physical dependence on surgery in the same way that a person can be dependent on a substance. Rather, surgery is often a coping strategy.
Is There Also a Link to Substance Abuse?
Substance use disorders are far more common among people with BDD than those without the condition. Substances may be used as a way to manage symptoms. However, using substances can often make the symptoms of BDD worse and lead to poorer overall functioning. Body dysmorphia can be quite a secretive disorder, so it may not be obvious that a person is using substances to cope.
Treatment for a Plastic Surgery Addiction
While it may seem like surgery would help people who have an addiction to plastic surgery, it can often have the opposite effect. An addiction or compulsion to have multiple plastic surgeries is often a symptom of underlying mental health disorder that requires psychiatric treatment.
Surgery may offer very temporary relief from symptoms, but comes with serious risks and does not address problematic thoughts and behaviors. Effective treatment for body dysmorphic disorder usually requires therapy that helps a person understand their obsessions, thoughts and behaviors.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy has been shown to be an effective treatment for body dysmorphic disorder and can help people recognize and change unhelpful thinking and behaviors related to their appearance.
Tadisina, Kashyap K; et al. “Body dysmorphic disorder in plastic surgery.” Eplasty, June 2013. Accessed August 21, 2019.
Crerand, Canice E; et al. “Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Cosmetic Surgery,” Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, December 2006. Accessed August 21, 2019.
Koran, Lorrin; et al. “The Prevalence of Body Dysmorphic Disorder in the United States Adult Population.” CNS Spectr, April 2008. Accessed August 22, 2019.
Grant, Jon; et al. “Substance use disorders in individuals with body dysmorphic disorder.” The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, March 2005. Accessed August 22, 2019.