People may find sunbeds just as addictive as drug-taking, research suggested.

An addiction to tanning - so-called "tanorexia" - is linked to anxiety, excessive drinking and use of drugs such as cannabis, it found.

Researchers in the US recruited 229 college students for the study, published in the journal Archives of Dermatology.

All the students used sunbeds and the typical number of visits to a tanning salon in the previous year was 23.

Overall, 70 students met one set of clinical criteria for suffering from an addiction and 90 met another.

Addicted students were found to use sunbeds more often and were more likely to say they suffered anxiety than those who were not addicted.

They were also more likely to drink a lot of alcohol and take cannabis, the study found.

Of the 50 students who met both sets of clinical criteria for addiction, 42% had taken two or more drugs in the previous month compared with 17% of those who were not addicted and 16% of a control group of students who had never used sunbeds.

The authors concluded: "This study provides further support for the notion that tanning may be conceptualised as an addictive behaviour for a subgroup of individuals who tan indoors.

"Overall, findings suggest that individuals who use drugs may be more likely to develop dependence on indoor tanning because of a similar addictive process."

Taking steps to cut down the use of sunbeds may reduce these symptoms and reduce the risk of young people developing skin cancer, the researchers said.

They added: "Findings suggest that interventions to reduce skin cancer risk should address the addictive qualities of indoor tanning for a minority of individuals and the relationship of this behaviour to other addictions and affective disturbance."

The study was led by a team from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in New York and the State University of New York.

Gary Lipman, chairman of The Sunbed Association, which represents the industry, said the study had "little if any scientific merit".

He added: "It acknowledges on several occasions that its findings are hypothetical and there are so many flaws contained within it that I am surprised it was even published, let alone being considered worth reporting on.

"Just under half the study sample of university students had never even used a sunbed.

"Of those that had, self-reported sunbed addiction was determined very questionably, using two modified measures normally used for alcoholism screening or a substance related disorder.

"Basically, a series of 15 questions were asked and if an individual answered 'yes' to more than three of them, they were defined as an indoor tanning addict.

"To then try and use these figures to determine a link between sunbed use and substance addiction is, quite frankly, scraping the barrel."