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The Genes and Genesis of Internet Addiction


Internet AddictionRecent research from German scientists led by Christian Montag at the University of Bonn found that individuals showing signs of internet addiction were more likely to possess a mutation of the CHRNA4 gene than their non-internet addicted counterparts (Gannon). This gene abnormality is commonly associated with nicotine addiction.  The mutation was more commonly seen in female internet addicts than male, and, as such Montag hypothesized, it may have to do with the types of websites women frequent most, such as social networks (Gannon).

While this breakthrough is truly tantalizing, recently bloggers, online journalists, and even those simply making comments on news sites are pointing out a major flaw in the study: while internet addicts were significantly more likely to have the genetic mutation, less than 3 out of 10 internet addicts in the study possessed a mutated CHRNA4 gene, and nearly 2 out of 10 non-internet-addicts had it.

It is not to say that the study in and of itself is not worthy of scientific merit (Wrigth).  I would assume that the results were considered statistically significant; nonetheless, Montag misrepresented the findings with several exaggeratory and self-important statements that sent the press on a whirlwind about the genetics behind internet addiction.

One particularly savvy journalist, Robert Wright, pointed to two of Montag’s statements as misleading the press.  First he said that the gene mutation explained an “‘essential’ role in internet addiction” (Wrigth).

Hopefully, I am not overanalyzing this or boring you, but “essential” would imply that the gene mutation would be present in all or nearly all of the cases of internet addiction as an across the board explanation, right?  Secondly, he said that his findings illustrated that “internet addiction is not a figment of our imagination” (Wrigth).

What does that mean?  If he had not found the gene would it still be an imaginary disease?

You know, Montag, you have a point.  If you cannot fully explain something, it probably is not real.  That is a great way to move through life.

At the end of the day, the best move that Montag made to get maximum media coverage was to not release the statistics in his press release of grandiose statements, but to leave them in the $49 Journal of Addiction Magazine, making them unavailable or at least undesirable to the many journalists who wrote sensationalist  pop psychology articles based on his press release and the previous articles written by their cohorts.

Regardless of whether or not there is an internet addiction gene, I don’t think that determines the viability of internet addiction as a disease. As Will Self pointed out, internet addiction, “fulfills the criteria of addiction, which is obsessive mental content connected to compulsive action.  The machine itself seems like a paradigm of the addictive state. I can see it as something that needs to be put down the way an alcoholic puts down drink” (Wilkinson).  As with a chemical addiction, internet addicts struggle to regulate computer usage and stay away just for a few moments without having an overwhelming urge to return to the screen.  Those are the underlying struggles of someone with addiction: powerlessness over stopping, regardless of what they want leading to decreased quality of life.



Gannon, Megan. “INternet Addiction Tied to Gene Mutation .” newser 29 August 2012. website.

Wilkinson, Carl. “Novelists Are Finding New Ways to Break Internet Addiction.” The Daily Telegraph 6 September 2012. website.

Wrigth, Robert. “Do you Have the ‘Internet Addiction Gene’?” the Atlantic September 2012. Website


By Emily F.

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Filed under: Latest News · Tags: Addiction, Christian Montag, CHRNA4, CHRNA4 gene, internet, internet addiction

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