Gene of the week: internet addiction

Michael Cook
14 Sep 2012
Reproduced with Permission

Everybody is talking about internet addiction - many people spend hours online and immediately start feeling bad if they are unable to do so. Medically, this phenomenon has not been as clearly described as nicotine or alcohol dependency. But a German study in the Journal of Addiction Medicine suggests that there are molecular-genetic connections in internet addiction, too.

"It was shown that Internet addiction is not a figment of our imagination," says the lead author, Dr. Christian Montag of the University of Bonn. "Researchers and therapists are increasingly closing in on it." He found that some people's thoughts revolve around the internet during the day and that they feel their wellbeing is severely impacted if they have to go without it.

The problem users seem to have a genetic variation that also plays a major role in nicotine addiction. "It seems that this connection is not only essential for nicotine addiction, but also for internet addiction," reports the Bonn psychologist. "The current data already shows that there are clear indications for genetic causes of Internet addiction."

The actual mutation is on the CHRNA4 gene that changes the genetic make-up for the Alpha 4 subunit on the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor. "Within the group of subjects exhibiting problematic Internet behavior this variant occurs more frequently - in particular, in women," says Dr. Montag. - Universität Bonn press release, Aug 29