Genetic basis for Internet addiction
I can’t walk across campus without seeing numerous students typing away on their cell phones or surfing the web on a laptop. Facebook, Twitter, and e-mails have become an intrinsic aspect of daily life. This preoccupation—some might call it an addiction—with the Internet may not be strictly a cultural phenomenon. A newly published study has found Internet addiction on the molecular level, coded in our genes.
German researchers at the University of Bonn published the study in the September issue of the Journal of Addiction Medicine. Researchers interviewed 843 potential subjects to find 132 who suffer from internet addiction. They claim their daily thoughts are centered on the Internet and feel that their happiness hinges on logging on to the web. These 132 test subjects were analyzed against a similar control group without any sort of Internet addiction.
The genetic analysis conducted revealed that the test group was more likely to have a genetic mutation of the CHRNA4 gene, the same one involved in nicotine addiction. The researchers discovered that Internet use, much like the chemical nicotine, fits into the gene like a key, triggering the brain’s reward system.
The study claimed an association between the CHRNA4 genetic mutation and addiction, but did not prove a definitive link, prompting deeper research into the topic. Overall, the findings show Internet addiction to be a valid malady. According to Christian Montag, of the department for differential and biological psychology at the University of Bon, this is not a “figment of our imaginations.”
This genetic connection could lead to deeper understanding of other Internet-influenced issues like pornography and depression. Understanding this connection could open up new treatment and therapy options. We could soon see Internet addiction coping mechanisms and treatments on the market.
In the study, it was noted that test subjects reported occasional problems in daily life due to overuse of the Internet. The next series of tests will be conducted with extreme computer addicts to further study the mutation’s effects. More testing will also include a comparison between women and men. The initial study discovered the mutation to be more prevalent in women, contrary to previous data supporting the opposite. This information suggests that Internet addiction is hereditary, meaning our children could experience the powerful influence of Facebook just as much as we do.