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Scientists Find Genetic Link to Web Addiction

A new study links compulsive web use with a specific genetic variation, proving "Internet addiction is real."

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By Valerie Tejeda

08/30/12

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In what could be a major step forward in understanding Internet addiction, scientists at the University of Bonn in Germany say they’ve found a genetic link to problematic web use. In a new study, published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, researchers examined 132 people displaying “problematic Internet use,” as defined by a daily obsession with going online, and feeling impaired or distressed when denied access to the web. The researchers then compared the genes of this Internet-addicted group with a non-addicted control group set, and found that the Internet addicts were likely to carry the gene mutation CHRNA4—which is also linked to nicotine addiction. “There are clear indications for genetic causes of Internet addiction,” said study researcher Christian Montag. “If such connections are better understood, this will also result in important indications for better therapies.” The CHRNA4 gene plays a role in activating the reward system in the brain, dispersing "feel-good" chemicals when an individual participates in activities such as sex, eating, and sleeping. Of those in the web-addicted group, the gene was notably more prevalent in women than men. “Within the group of subjects exhibiting problematic Internet behavior this variant occurs more frequently...in women,” said Montag. “The sex-specific genetic finding may result from a specific subgroup of Internet dependency, such as the use of social networks or such.” The researchers say that more studies need to be conducted to further validate these findings.

 

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