Gene mutation can promote internet addiction

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Mutations responsible for internet addiction

Internet addiction no longer belongs to the marginal phenomenon of a generation. More and more people are spending their time online, playing online games and only communicating via social networks. When virtual reality determines life, those affected neglect their everyday lives and can no longer do without the Internet, psychologists speak of an addiction. German scientists have now identified a gene mutation that could favor internet addiction. Women are said to be more susceptible to online addiction.

Mutation for internet addiction changes brain metabolism
A gene mutation could promote internet addiction. A German research team has now proven this for the first time. Accordingly, the mutation causes a change in the metabolism of important signal substances in the brain, making it more susceptible to behavior typical of addiction.

The researchers found that the mutation occurs more often in addicts than in people with normal internet usage behavior. "It turns out that internet addiction is not a fantasy," explains Christian Montag from the Department of Differential and Biological Psychology at the University of Bonn. "It is increasingly becoming the focus of scientists and therapists." There is similar to nicotine or alcohol addiction molecular genetic relationships.

The scientists at the University of Bonn and the Central Institute for Mental Health (ZI) in Mannheim write in the journal "Journal of Addiction Medicine" that the mutation could serve as a marker in the future to diagnose internet addiction, provided the results are confirmed in further studies. " If such relationships are better understood, this also gives important clues for better therapies, ”explains Montag.

Internet addiction shows up in a certain gene region Psychologists speak of Internet addiction when the person affected hardly moves outside of virtual reality and his life is shaped by dependency. Hours of surfing the net, online games and social networks are among the main activities of internet addicts. Affected people can no longer do without the Internet. You are unable to limit or even waive the time of internet use. The addictive behavior is similar to that of alcohol addicts who can no longer do without alcohol. Social contacts in the real world hardly take place anymore and everyday tasks are neglected.

So far, it has been unknown whether and to what extent biological factors such as an altered brain metabolism or genetic mutations are decisive. For this reason, they specifically investigated the differences in the genes of internet addicts and non-addicts in their study.

Initially, 843 people were asked about their Internet usage behavior. The researchers identified a potential addiction with problematic behavior regarding the Internet in 132 women and men. The subjects stated that they think about the Internet constantly in everyday life and feel uncomfortable when they have to do without it. When comparing the genetic makeup of the 132 internet addicts with that of healthy control persons, it was found that the addictions showed significantly more frequent deviations in a certain gene region, which also has a decisive influence on nicotine addiction.

The researchers write that it is "a mutation in the CHRNA4 gene that leads to a subunit being changed at a docking site for the signal substance acetylcholine in those affected". "It is known from the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor in the brain that a mutation on the associated gene promotes addictive behavior," says Montag. Both nicotine and the acetylcholine made by the human body would fit perfectly on this receptor. Both messenger substances play an important role in activating the reward center in the brain. "This connection is obviously not only of great importance for nicotine addiction, but also for internet addiction," explains the psychologist.

Women are affected by the mutation more often To the surprise of the researchers, the research showed that "more women are affected by the mutation than men". The mutation on the CHRNA4 gene changes the genetic material for the subunit "alpha 4" on the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor. "This variant occurs frequently in the group of subjects with problematic internet behavior - especially among women," reports Montag. However, this had to be analyzed more closely, since it was previously assumed that men were more inclined to internet addiction than women. "The gender-specific genetic finding may be due to a special subset of internet addiction, such as the use of social networks or the like," says the psychologist.

In general, further studies are needed to shed more light on the connection between the mutation and an internet addiction. "However, the data already show that there is clear evidence of molecular genetic causes of internet addiction," explains Montag. (Ag)

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Image: Dieter Schütz /

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