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Associations Among Internet Addiction, Genetic Polymorphisms, Family Functioning, And Psychopathological Risk: Cross-Sectional Exploratory Study

Luca Cerniglia, Silvia Cimino, Eleonora Marzilli, Esterina Pascale, Renata Tambelli

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Background International research has emphasized that youths are at higher risk for the onset of internet addiction (IA), but studies investigating biological, psychological, and social factors associated with this condition are limited. Objective This study aims to investigate the possible association between IA and genetic polymorphisms in monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A), serotonin-transporter (5-HTTPR), dopamine receptor (DRD4), and dopamine transporter (DAT1) genes by considering the role played by the perception of young adults in their family functioning and their depression, anxiety, and avoidant personality problems. Methods In a sample of 104 male and female young adults aged between 19 and 23 years (mean age 21.87, SD 2.29 years) recruited from universities in the central southern part of Italy, we addressed the presence of IA using the Young criteria of the IA test. Moreover, the perception of young adults of their family functioning and their psychopathological symptoms were assessed through the Family Assessment Device (FAD) and the Adult Self-Report, respectively. Results We found no significant association between IA and any genetic polymorphisms, neither among males or females. Young adults with IA reported significantly higher scores in the subscale of FAD affective responsiveness (AR; P=.01) and in depressive problems (P=.02), anxiety problems (P=.009), and avoidant personality problems (P=.003) than those in the control group. Results of mediation analyses showed a mediation role played by depressive symptoms (B=0.99; 95% CI 0.22 to 1.97) and avoidant personality problems (B=1.09; 95% CI 0.32 to 2.05) of young adults on the relationship between the FAD, AR, and IA. Finally, this relationship was moderated by the genotype of the 5-HTTLPR (P<.001), DAT1 (P<.001), and MAO-A (P<.001) genes in young adults. Conclusions This exploratory study supports the recent evidence on the mutual relationship among biological, individual, and social risk factors associated with IA in young adulthood. Our findings may have important clinical implications for the development of prevention and treatment programs.