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Plastic Surgery Addiction: An Unhealthy Obsession with Perfection

by Jena Hilliard ❘  

What Is Plastic Surgery Addiction?

In today’s society, it’s pretty normal for most people to have a few things that they don’t like or would change about their appearance. For many this means seeking out a surgical procedure such as liposuction, rhinoplasty, or breast augmentation. However, there are some individuals that no amount of cosmetic surgery will satisfy or equate to the picture of perfection that they have in their heads; this is when an addiction can develop. Plastic surgery addiction is a behavioral addiction characterized by psychological compulsions to continuously alter one’s appearance with cosmetic surgery.

There is a common belief that people who routinely get plastic surgery are self-absorbed; however, this is a misconception as many people who develop an addiction to cosmetic surgery struggle with severe and debilitating insecurity. They are preoccupied with how they look, but in a negative way – seeing themselves to be ugly, malformed, misshapen, or hideous. This intense insecurity is often caused by body dysmorphic disorder.

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What Is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Many researchers have found that the majority of people who are addicted to plastic surgery also suffer from co-occurring BDD. Body dysmorphic disorder is a rare psychiatric condition that is characterized by persistent and intrusive preoccupations with an imagined or small defect in one’s appearance. While the severity of the disorder varies, it causes many sufferers real emotional distress and can have a devastating impact on their lives. The level of distress an individual with BDD experiences regarding his or her appearance is vastly out of proportion to any real physical “defect” on the face or body.

Body dysmorphic disorder only effects about 1% to 2% of the general population but has been found to be up to 15 times more prevalent in those seeking plastic surgery. People struggling with body dysmorphic disorder obsessively think about their appearances, focusing only on their perceived negative features. Patients suffering from the disorder also engage in obsessive-compulsive behaviors, including: mirror gazing, comparing personal features, skin picking, reassurance seeking, and even “self-surgery” practices.

Many people that suffer from BDD turn to plastic surgery as they believe that surgically altering their appearances will remedy their negative perceptions of self. However, surgery rarely resolves symptoms of the disorder as it does not solve the underlying psychological issues. Plastic surgery actually leaves the person off worse than before, as patients with body dysmorphic disorder often possess unrealistic expectations about the outcomes and suffer the pain and inconvenience of surgery without receiving the results they want. These people will then continue to go under the knife and spend thousands of dollars on something that fails to make them feel any better.

The Dangers of Plastic Surgery

Numerous cosmetic procedures pose multiple serious health threats to the body, such as excessive scar tissues, blood clots, infections, collapsed muscles, and cardiac arrest due to anesthesia. Because of these risks, plastic surgeons perform careful assessments to determine if undergoing surgery is safe or even possible for a patient. It is not surprising then that many people who are addicted to plastic surgery are often turned down by their surgeons. When refused the procedures that they are seeking, many take matters into their own hands and find less qualified doctors that will consent to operating or even perform surgery on themselves.

I had somebody who would buy dermarollers online. It looks like a small rolling pin with needles on it that you use on your face. If you go somewhere for a professional to do it, there’s a six week wait between treatments because the skin needs to heal. But he just did it to himself repeatedly and really damaged his face. And then all he can see is the scars and scabs and bleeding all over his face because he tried to correct it too many times. And the cycle continues.

- Dr. Annemarie O'Connor, Clinical Psychologist

Plastic Surgery Addiction and Opioid Abuse

In addition to the physical and mental health concerns associated with plastic surgery addiction, it has also been connected to opioid abuse. Cosmetic procedures are often debilitating and opioid painkillers are commonly prescribed for postoperative pain and discomfort. Depending on the surgery, the wounds can take weeks or even months to heal, which means prolonged use of the highly addictive drugs. Those suffering from plastic surgery addiction are at an additional heightened risk for opioid abuse due to their poor image and low self-esteem. Thus, opioid medications become both a physical and emotional pain reliever for the patient, prompting the development of another addiction.

Treatment for Plastic Surgery Addiction

As plastic surgery becomes more common and affordable, rates of plastic surgery addiction are bound to increase as well. Fortunately, cognitive behavioral therapy has proven to be very effective in treating both plastic surgery addiction and body dysmorphia disorder. If you believe that you or someone you know may be suffering from a plastic surgery addiction, contact a dedicated treatment provider today. There is help and there is hope.

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