Plastic surgery addiction is not as well-known as substance abuse, but it’s a reality for many. It’s not at all vanity that drives some to try find perfection, but the failure to see it in themselves. The condition is categorised as behavioural/process addiction, and is very serious as it can impact more than just the patient’s looks. The psyche is in danger of developing more psychological conditions, including depression and anxiety. Suicide is very common among addicts as well.

Most who suffer from addiction to cosmetic surgery have underlying problems that they find difficult to confront. It’s often a result of body dysmorphic disorders, insecurities, or trauma that comes from bullying or society’s unjustifiable beauty standards. All of this can push many to go to the extremes when trying to create the perfect look in order to get ahead in life. From tummy tucks to breast enlargements and nose jobs, anyone can fall prey to cosmetic surgery addiction while trying to enhance one or more of their body’s features.

Sadly, the outcome of surgery can also be far from what the person was expecting, which is usually the case for those who become addicted. Once the first couple of “jobs” are done, the patient doesn’t see the results they were hoping for. Even if the surgery is a complete success, some have set the expectations to such a standard that surgeons can’t achieve the results.

But things can take a turn for the worst when the patient experiences the traumatic ordeal of a botched surgery. Many horror stories have come out from the operating table, usually from surgeons who are inexperienced or negligent. This can lead to the patient seeking more beauty enhancements in order to fix the mistakes, which can either worsen the outcome or make it slightly better. Both of which are not what the patient was expecting, creating a never-ending cycle.

However, part of the problem is also surgeons who are unscrupulous in how they portray their work. Some promise fantastic results, which is unethical to say the least, while others don’t take the time to screen their patients for underlying issues that might lead to addiction. Surgery is big business ($13.2 billion was spent on it in 2007 alone), so some surgeons choose to accept money at the expense of a far dangerous outcome which is addiction.

It must be said that not all surgeons are unprincipled, and plastic surgery isn’t at all a bad thing. Cosmetic surgery not only helps enhance existing features, but it can also treat burn and acid-attack victims, as well as cancer patients and children born with deformities. The industry is essential to bettering our lives, so we shouldn’t lambast it, the experienced surgeons or the people seeking treatment. All scenarios can quickly alienate those who are addicted to surgery, making treatment less likely.

Coming back to society, there are so many standards that make it impossible for those who suffer from addiction to be themselves. Plastic surgery is often associated with wealth, beauty and class, all of which are a status symbol society has come to know as the definition of success. Addiction can be the result of a person’s fear of a lack of acceptance from society, which in truth is a justified fear, and is usually an underlying reason for surgery.

If anything plastic surgery must be a culture that practices moderation, because it has its benefits. There’s nothing wrong with wanting great cheek bones, plump lips or reconstructing a damaged feature, but it should have its limits. Those who are likely to suffer from addiction can be screened for underlying psychological conditions. If these are detected, the doctor or a loved one must give emotional support to the individual and help them seek psychological treatment.

The idea is to empower the individual seeking treatment to realise that (with or without surgery) they’re still beautiful. Once that is instilled into the individual’s mind-set, they’re less likely to have high expectations about the outcome of the surgery, and might even refrain from the procedure.

For those who are close to victims of addiction, it’s also a good idea to recommend non-invasive treatments that can provide results without the danger. Society’s outlook on beauty needs to change as well, but also its perception of plastic surgery as a procedure for the vain needs to be left behind. There’s nothing wrong with plastic surgery – it has saved many lives, but it needs to be done in moderation and those who suffer from addiction need to receive the appropriate treatment to ensure they see their own worth and can be themselves.


Dr. Howard C. Samuels,