According to researchers from the University of Bonn and the ZI Mannheim, internet addiction is not just something we’ve made up in society, but may actually be due to our genetics.

During the last years, the researchers has asked 843 people about their internet usage. After looking at their responses, the authors determined that 132 of these individuals, both men and women, have problems regarding their internet behavior. This was determined by how the volunteers reacted when told they maybe have to be without internet and how they felt they were benefitting from being online.

Dr Christian Montag from the Department for Differential and Biological Psychology at the University of Bonn said: “It was shown that Internet addiction is not a figment of our imagination. Researchers and therapists are increasingly closing in or it.”

The researchers decided to analyze the difference between the genetic makeup of people who may have a problem with their internet use and those who seem to have it under control.

They determined that the 132 individuals who had a “problem” with their internet use more often carried a gene that is prevalent in nicotine addiction.

Dr. Montag explains: “What we already know about the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor in the brain is that a mutation on the related gene promotes addictive behavior.”

The addictive nicotine found in tobacco fits like a glove into this receptor. This is similar to what happened with acetylcholine, which is produced by the body. These two neurotransmitters are important components in the brain’s “reward system”.

The Bonn psychologist explains: “It seems that this connection is not only essential for nicotine addiction, but also for Internet addiction.”

According to the authors, the mutation, which occurs on the CHRNA4 gene responsible for changing the genetic makeup for the Alpha 4 subunit on the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, affects women more than men.

Montag says: “Within the group of subjects exhibiting problematic Internet behavior this variant occurs more frequently – in particular, in women.”

He notes that more research needs to be done to ensure that this finding is accurate, because there have been many previous studies claiming that men are more capable of becoming addicted to the Internet than women.

Montag says this may be due to the fact that: “The sex-specific genetic finding may result from a specific subgroup of Internet dependency, such as the use of social networks or such.”

They conclude that further studies need to be done involving more individuals in order to determine and understand the correlation between Internet addiction and this mutation. “But, the current data already shows that there are clear indications for genetic causes of Internet addiction.”, adds Montag.

The findings have made it possible for Internet addiction to be seen from a neurological standpoint. The psychologist concludes: “If such connections are better understood, this will also result in important indications for better therapies.”

Written by Christine Kearney