TUESDAY, Sept. 4, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Not only is Internet addiction a legitimate compulsion, it may have the same genetic component as nicotine addiction, a new study suggests.
Out of nearly 850 people interviewed about their Internet habits, German researchers evaluated 132 who showed signs of being hooked to the Web, while another 132 without problematic Internet behavior were selected as a control group.
The addicted users said that all their thoughts revolved around the Internet during the day, and they felt that their well-being was harmed if they couldn't go online. The participants' average age was 25.
The study authors conducted a genetic analysis and discovered that the people with Internet addiction were more likely than others to have a genetic mutation on the CHRNA4 gene, which is known to play a major role in nicotine addiction.
The gene mutation was more common in women with online addiction than in men with the problem, according to the study. But the researchers said further research is needed to confirm this because numerous surveys have found that men are more prone to Internet addiction than women.
The study was recently published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine. The study found an association between the gene mutation and addiction, but it did not prove a definitive link.
Overall, the findings show "that Internet addiction is not a figment of our imagination," study author Christian Montag, of the department for differential and biological psychology at the University of Bonn, said in a university news release.
While more research is needed to further analyze the link between this gene mutation and online addiction, the study "shows that there are clear indications for genetic causes of Internet addiction," Montag said.
Learning more about how genetics influences Internet addiction could lead to better treatments, he noted.
Noting that these addicted Internet users reported only occasionalproblems in everyday life because of overuse of the Internet, the researchers said extreme users should be evaluated in future research.
Previous research has found about 1 percent of Germans are addicted to the Internet, according to background information in the study.
HelpGuide.org has more about Internet and computer addiction.