Is Internet Addiction a Family Trait?

October 19, 2012

A new study from the University of Bonn (U of B) in Germany recently published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine is adding more evidence to support the debate over the existence of Internet addiction. Although both the psychology field and society at large are not convinced Internet addiction is a legitimate disease, more and more research seems to be coming out in support of technology addictions of all kinds. In fact, the German researchers say that they have found evidence that Internet addiction may be driven by the same genes that are linked with the abuse of nicotine.

German Scientists Believe They Found Evidence For a Genetic Link to Internet Addiction

Approximately 850 individuals were interviewed regarding their Internet habits for the study. Of these participants, 132 subjects were found to meet the criteria for Internet addiction. These participants were then paired with 132 randomly selected individuals from the larger group that did not show problematic Internet usage. The average age of the subjects was 25 years old and the addicted users reported the following relationship to the Internet:

  • Most of their thoughts throughout the day involved usage of the Internet.
  • They felt distress or that their welfare was in jeopardy if they could not access the Internet.

Each participant allowed the researchers to study their genes to see if there were any similarities or differences between the two groups. The scientists found that the individuals reporting addictive behaviors with the Internet had a higher likelihood of having a mutation of the gene CHRNA4, which is already recognized for its role in nicotine addiction.

Is the New Research Definitive Proof of Internet Addiction?

A single study can’t prove anything conclusively, so more studies are needed to see if other research teams find similar results. One question left by the German team was that of gender. The researchers found the CHRNA4 mutation more often in women, but a large number of surveys have found that males seemed to struggle with Internet addiction more often than females.

Furthermore, the U of B research merely showed an association between the symptoms of Internet addiction and certain changes in the genes; however, this does not prove a causal relationship.

Nevertheless, Christian Montag, lead author of the study and part of the university’s department for differential and biological psychology says that the results demonstrated “that Internet addiction is not a figment of our imagination.” He also pointed out that the subjects in his study all reported only mild impairment in daily functioning due to their Internet use. He feels that future research should attempt to analyze individuals with more extreme Internet addiction issues.

Do you think Internet addiction is a real disease? Tell us your opinion below.


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