Psoriasis and Addiction

Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on March 21, 2022
4 min read

Psoriasis is a complex condition, and scientists continue to learn more about it all the time. We already know about the link between psoriasis and other illnesses you may have at the same time, like diabetes and depression. But could there also be a connection between the skin condition and addiction?

Very few studies have examined the relationship between psoriasis and addiction. But the results we do have show a possible link.

One survey carried out by researchers in Germany looked at people living with moderate-to-severe psoriasis. It asked about their behaviors surrounding alcohol, drugs, smoking, gambling, and food. More than half showed addictive behavior, especially with alcohol, smoking, and gambling. Some rates were even higher than those of the general public.

Researchers think one possible reason is that people with psoriasis are more likely to have depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. This could lead to addictive behaviors. They’re still exploring whether people with psoriasis are more likely to have these behaviors, or if addiction ups your odds of getting psoriasis.

When you have psoriasis, drinking alcohol can make you more vulnerable to infection. And researchers link it to a higher chance of psoriasis and more severe disease.

In the German survey on psoriasis and addiction, researchers asked people living with the illness about their drinking habits. Among other questions, researchers wanted to know whether they had ever felt the need to cut down on drinking or felt guilty about drinking. They found that people with psoriasis drink much more alcohol than those without the condition. The survey results echo previous research on people's drinking habits with psoriasis.

Like alcohol, smoking can also worsen your psoriasis and make it more likely that you’ll get the disease. You may also have a harder time treating it. Scientists think smoking raises the number of molecules in your body that control your body’s immune system, such as cytokines and free radicals. Cytokines are proteins that regulate your body’s immune system and inflammation response. Free radicals are unstable atoms that can damage cells. Both cytokines and free radicals boost inflammation.

But is there a link between psoriasis and an addiction to smoking? Researchers asked participants with psoriasis in a cigarette study how many cigarettes they smoked and how often. Their answer choices were “never,” “socially,” or “regularly.” Of the people who responded, 41% were regular smokers and 8% social smokers. A little more than half, 53.7%, smoked more than one pack of cigarettes a day. These rates are about the same as smokers without psoriasis.

Some drugs that treat other health conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, mental health issues, pain, and infection can also trigger a psoriasis flare-up. Among the drugs that can cause this reaction are beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, and NSAIDS such as aspirin. Some antibiotics also have a link to the condition, but experts aren’t sure if this is due to the drugs or to the condition that they’re taken to treat.

With drug-induced psoriasis, the flare stops if you stop taking the drug. This happens with people who’ve never had psoriasis before. Sometimes a psoriasis flare happens after you’ve stopped taking the drug. This happens with people who have a history of psoriasis and is known as drug-aggravated psoriasis.

According to researchers, 11% of those who took part in the psoriasis and addiction survey were at risk of abusing illegal drugs. This is much higher than people who don’t have psoriasis. They also discovered a link between drugs and more severe psoriasis.

Psoriasis and food have a complicated relationship. What you eat won’t trigger a flare-up or the disease itself. But how much you eat and the resulting weight gain could play a role. People who are overweight or obese may have more severe psoriasis symptoms. They may also respond more poorly to treatment.

Only 3% of people with psoriasis who took part in the German study had what researchers called a food addiction. But overall, around 70% had a body mass index (BMI) in the overweight or obese categories. These results were much higher than those without psoriasis.

Gambling is the least understood addiction related to psoriasis and may need further study based on the results of one survey. Of the 100 people with psoriasis who answered questions about gambling, 19% showed signs of compulsive gambling. This is a much higher number than the general public.

The study’s authors say more psoriasis research should examine the connection to gambling because of the rise of online casinos, gaming, and betting.

Addiction in people with psoriasis is still a new area of study. But researchers believe addiction can have a long-term impact on people with the skin condition. They want to know more about the ways substance abuse may affect whether people living with psoriasis stick with treatment and how well those treatments work.

Researchers suggest when they treat people with psoriasis, dermatologists ask questions about potentially addictive behaviors like:

  • Have you ever felt the need for a drink first thing in the morning?
  • Do you smoke one or more packs of cigarettes a day?
  • Do you use drugs?
  • Do you need gambling or online games played for money?

Dermatologists could then warn people with psoriasis about the potential dangers of behaviors like smoking and drinking on their condition and overall health. And they can make recommendations to help curb these behaviors, such as stop-smoking programs.