We already know that social media has social costs and that it can even lead to anxiety. We also know that some mobile device users experience physical symptoms of withdrawal when “out of touch.” And we know that Internet addiction is real and can alter brain chemistry in similar ways to drug and alcohol addiction.
Now, researchers at the University of Bonn say that Internet addiction may well be influenced by genetics.
Researchers have discovered a cause for Internet addiction that originates in a simple variation of the CHRNA4 gene. What’s more, this genetic mutation is more prevalent in women.
After interviewing 843 people, researchers discovered that 132 of them exhibited “problematic behaviour” with respect to “how they handle the online medium.” According to research, they found that “all their thoughts revolve around the Internet during the day, and they feel their well-being is severely impacted if they have to go without it.”
From that standpoint, the researchers took DNA samples and compared them to the genetic makeup of a control group. Those exhibited the aforementioned behaviour often carried the aforementioned genetic variation. The same genetic variation has been linked to things like nicotine addiction.
The Internet, like nicotine, seems to play a role in activating the brain’s reward centre.
“Internet addiction is not a figment of our imagination,” the study’s lead author Christian Montag says. “The current data already shows that there are clear indications for genetic causes of Internet addiction…If such connections are better understood, this will also result in important indications for better therapies.”
Addiction can come in many forms, of course, from psychological dependence to physical dependence. There is also the conception of behaviour addiction, which has generally been associated with things like computer addiction and compulsive shopping. With this research, however, the conception that there may be a genetic element to Internet addiction could transform the way we approach the subject.
The American Psychiatric Association’s “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” is said to be set to included Internet addiction in its list of disorders, which is a pretty significant move. Legitimizing Internet addiction alongside things like drug and alcohol addiction could mean a change in how we approach the subject, but it could also mean more opportunity for cunning advertisers and carriers.