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New research offers clues to Internet addiction

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Scientists have found a link between Internet addiction and a genetic mutation involved in nicotine addiction.

If your thoughts constantly revolve around surfing the web and you get anxious or depressed when you don't have access to the online world, you may be suffering from Internet addiction. And new research shows that Internet addiction is tied to a genetic mutation.

Christian Montag and colleagues from the University of Bonn in Germany and the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim compared DNA samples from individuals who had troublesome relationships with the Internet to that of healthy individuals. They found that people with problematic relationships were more often carriers of a genetic mutation that plays a role in nicotine addiction.

"Internet addiction is not a figment of our imagination," Montag says in a statement. "Researchers and therapists are increasingly closing in on it. The current data already shows that there are clear indications for genetic causes of Internet addiction."

Researchers interviewed 843 people about their online habits and found that 132 of the participants showed signs of "problematic behavior in how they handle the online medium." Using DNA samples, scientists compared the genetic makeup of the two groups and found that the individuals in the problematic group were more likely to carry a mutation on the CHRNA4 gene, which is linked to nicotine addiction.

The study also found that the genetic mutation occurred more frequently in women who displayed problematic Internet behavior.

Researchers think that a mutation on the CHRNA4 gene activates the reward center in the brains of Internet addicts, similar to the way it promotes addictive behavior in nicotine addicts.

The study is in the Journal of Addiction Medicine.

It is important to discuss how to handle possible consequences of Internet use as more and more of our lives revolve around computer electronics and information that is created and managed on the web.

To date, Internet addiction has not been clearly defined in medical terms because it is not as well understood as addiction to other things such as alcohol or sex. The researchers note that more research needs to be done before they can make any conclusions or work on solutions to the problem. Montag says, "If such connections are better understood, this will also result in important indications for better therapies."

via Science Daily

Photo via flickr/Marcin Wichary

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Amy Kraft

Weekend Editor

Contributing Editor Amy Kraft is a freelance writer based in New York. She has written for New Scientist and DNAinfo and has produced podcasts for Scientific American's 60-Second-Science. She holds degrees from CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure