ΔFosB: The Protein Behind Behavioral Addiction

Psychiatrists are trying to understand behavioral addiction, but it’s still on the frontier of science. There’s good news, though! Scientists suspect that a protein variant, ΔFosB, is responsible for nearly all forms of behavioral and drug addiction.

Chromosome 19 Chromosome 19, the FosB factory. Public domain image from Wikimedia.

The Intro

After getting some awesome feedback from an earlier article I wrote describing techniques for overcoming my own Internet addiction, I started doing some research on Google Scholar in the hopes of finding some material describing the reinforcement mechanisms behind the Facebook “like” button. In particular, I was looking for any sort of insight into the research Facebook is doing to hook us on their platform.

While I haven’t run across enough material to write an article on that topic yet, I did discover plenty of stuff on behavioral addiction. And I can’t easily express how awesome it feels to know that there’s an explanation behind my addictive personality, even if there’s no known treatment for it quite yet (other than therapy).

The Research

The first thing I ran across in my search for material was a 2016 paper by University at Albany researcher, Julia M. Hormes, titled Under the influence of Facebook? Excess use of social networking sites and drinking motives, consequences, and attitudes in college students.

Hormes’ research involved taking the Penn Alcohol Craving Scale, modifying it to capture disordered social media use, and collecting survey data amongst college students. Despite a self-admitted bias in her sampling method, she found a correspondence between Facebook addiction and alcohol abuse. There were also some other interesting correspondences, including an increased likelihood of Facebook addiction amongst nonwhite participants.

Not to go off too far on a tangent about psychology research, but to me this seemed to indicate a common cause between at least these two addictions.

After being engrossed by Hormes’ paper and its implications, I dropped the premise of the article I had originally hoped to write because I wanted to learn more about the correlation of addictive behaviors. Mostly because I, myself, have fallen down the addiction ladder and hit nearly every rung on the way down. Gaming addiction, social media addiction, you name it.

Science is Moving Fast

So I stumbled across the Wikipedia article on behavioral addiction. And, after clicking and reading about the frontier of psychiatry as it relates to Internet addiction for the better part of an hour, I feel so much relief.

Guys, they’re getting closer to understanding this whole addiction thing. If you ever feel like Internet, gaming, gambling, pornography, shopping, overeating, or whatever other behavioral addiction isn’t real: Rest easy. It is.

Psychiatry is moving fast these days, thanks to the very thing that some of us are addicted to: the Internet. The American Psychiatric Association, who publish the premier tome on mental health, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (commonly known as the DSM), announced back in 2010 that they’re changing the naming convention of the DSM to better capture how fast their field is advancing.

How cool is that? Scientists are collaborating and trying to figure out the root causes of addiction as we speak.

What Does This Mean For Us?

Like I mentioned earlier, scientists suspect that a truncated splice variant of the protein, ΔFosB, might be responsible for addictive personalities. Unfortunately, because this research is on the frontier of psychiatry, that doesn’t mean a whole lot for people like me that feel easily addicted to different behaviors. Hell, even the latest published version of the DSM, the DSM-5, only currently recognizes gambling addiction as a disorder.

Personally speaking, this revelation is a mixed bag of emotions. On one hand, I am unbelievably relieved that mental health professionals see what’s going on. On the other, I’m really bummed that there’s not much that can be done other than therapy and self-regulation. But let’s at least have an open conversation and not stigmatise behavioral addiction.

After all, talking through our problems and owning our mess is the only way we currently have to healthily cope with behavioral addiction!

Thanks for reading!