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In a new paper, researchers claim they’ve linked Internet addiction to a specific variation in a gene.The new paper was published in the September 2012 issue of the Journal of Addiction Medicine.
“There are clear indications for genetic causes of Internet addiction,” study researcher Christian Montag of University of Bonn, said in a statement from the university. “If such connections are better understood, this will also result in important indications for better therapies.”
The researchers studied 132 participants with “problematic Internet use” as defined in a press release:
Men and women in this group exhibit problematic behaviour in how they handle the online medium; all their thoughts revolve around the Internet during the day, and they feel their wellbeing is severely impacted if they have to go without it.
They matched these Internet addicts with a control set of 132 people of their same age and sex who don’t have internet addiction problems.
Each of the participants provided DNA samples and filled out an internet addiction survey. The researchers analysed the DNA samples, looking for any differences between the internet addicted group and the control group.
They found that a variation in one gene, called CHRNA4, was much more prevalent in the internet obsessed group than it was in the control group, specifically when it came to the web-obsessed women.
“It was shown that Internet addiction is not a figment of our imagination,” Montag said. “Researchers and therapists are increasingly closing in on it.”
CHRNA4 is a receptor that’s active on brain cells, it is a type of ion channel that mediates the connections and communications between brain cells. The gene plays a role in activating the brain’s reward system, which disperses feel-good chemicals in response to evolutionarily productive actions (like eating, sleeping and sex). It has previously been linked to some cases of epilepsy and in nicotine addiction.
“Within the group of subjects exhibiting problematic Internet behaviour this variant occurs more frequently – in particular, in women,” Montag said. “The sex-specific genetic finding may result from a specific subgroup of Internet dependency, such as the use of social networks or such.”
They warn the study needs to be repeated in more people and different groups of people.
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