Cryptocurrency Addiction – the Behaviour and the Treatment
By Chris Burn
You’re sitting alone in a small, gloomy room. In front of you is a small screen where numbers, charts and small news items appear in an endless stream.
You’ve been looking at the screen for twelve hours and your eyes are hurting. You’re feeling tired and hungry and the remains of some junk food, eaten earlier, are on the table.
You don’t remember the last time you saw your family and friends and you have no plans to do so. You don’t think about taking exercise or socialising. In fact you haven’t thought about anything much except what’s on the screen, for the past ten days.
“[Cryptocurrency Trading] Has the exact same risk and return characteristics as a naive gambler, who has opened their first online betting account.” ~ Jonathan Sheehan
But this doesn’t worry you. The little numbers on the screen are telling you the right things and you’re feeling happy – you’re making money, for the time being at any rate. You’re a success story! You’re a cryptocurrency trader!
You’re also probably a compulsive gambler with a serious addiction problem. And lack of awareness of your problem is a part of your illness.
Gambling gone viral
Gambling activity has expanded hugely since the home computer and the credit card have turned the home of any punter into a casino or a stock market.
And where there is gambling there will be addiction for some of those who participate.
One of the newest, fastest growing and high risk gambling activities is cryptocurrency trading and that’s why we now welcome people with cryptocurrency addiction (or “crypto addicts” as the media are now saying) to Castle Craig Hospital. As far as we can tell, we’re the first rehab clinic anywhere in the world to offer treatment for this specific addiction.
What’s the Problem with cryptocurrency addiction?
Unlike some forms of gambling such as horse racing which are, to some extent, regulated, and limited by time, the odds and size of stake, cryptocurrency trading can be done 24/7.
It’s volatile and the stakes can be very large – indeed I have seen it described as a ‘never-ending horse race for high stakes at long odds’.
All this is very attractive to compulsive gamblers who tend to seek excitement, escape from reality and the opportunity to repeat the activity to the point of exhaustion.
“denial is perhaps the most common symptom of addiction” ~ Chris Burn
Jonathan Sheehan (Managing Director, Compass Private Wealth) is quoted as saying that cryptocurrency trading:
“Has the exact same risk and return characteristics as a naive gambler, who has opened their first online betting account. There is absolutely no valuation metric for these currencies and allocating capital to them is an extreme and unnecessary risk”.
Signs of Cryptocurrency Addiction
So, what are the signs to watch out for, if you think you or a friend might have a problem?
Gambling addiction, especially addiction to cryptocurrency trading or any form of day-trading, can mean long hours looking at a computer or phone screen, resulting in isolation, loss of friends, work problems and a lack of exercise. The person trading may be unaware of these negative effects, especially if they are trading successfully and making profits.
Other tell-tale signs would include:
- Spending a great deal of time watching the cryptocurrency online, checking prices and constantly thinking about the activity – so that other occupations such as work, socialising and exercise don’t get done.
- Becoming irritable and nervous when not engaged in the activity, sleeping badly because of always thinking about it.
- Debts and financial problems
- Lying to friends, and family, or justifying one’s activities and problems
- Mood swings, feelings of hopelessness and depression.
- Anxiety, leading to physical symptoms such as sweating and tremors
- Unrealistic views such as being ‘lucky’, chasing losses
- Attempting to control the activity but without success.
If you’re wondering about this, and whether you might have a problem, then the chances are that you probably do.
I was a Gambling Addict
I myself experienced a gambling addiction (along with other addictions) and, I think, I had just about all the above symptoms.
I was also in considerable denial as to the severity of my problem (and denial is perhaps the most common symptom of addiction).
One day I realised that my large number of maxed out credit cards totalled a debt of over £100k. The train had hit the buffers. Therapy and Gamblers Anonymous was the next step.
Happily, I can look back over many years of recovery but I still consider myself at risk. Listening to colleagues discussing the latest cryptocurrency mini-bubble recently made me decidedly jumpy – the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) juices had started running again…
How do people get into Cryptocurrency Trading?
Often people begin trading in cryptocurrencies as a leisure activity, very part time.
Not every person will become addicted, but there will be some who do.
Another way that people come to gambling can be through computer gaming; teenagers sometimes spend long hours totally enthralled by large scale computer games. The excitement and detachment from reality is the same attraction that gamblers feel.
Either way, having started cryptocurrency trading, they quickly become hooked because of its addictive nature. By this we mean, unlike regular stock trading, it is poorly regulated, often poorly understood, but exciting because of the big fluctuations in price that occur.
People may experience Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) which adds to the hype. Thus, there is a situation where people are trading on speculation rather than on a basis of sound investment judgement.
Also, because the activity is available 24/7, it is particularly attractive to compulsive gamblers.
What does Britain’s Leading Behavioural Addiction Expert Say?
In a recent article entitled Gripped by ‘crypt’: A brief look at ‘crypto-trading addiction’, Dr Mark Griffiths*, a leading academic authority on addiction and addictive behaviours, said:
“my own view is that this is not a ‘new’ addiction but a sub-type of online day-trading addiction (on which I first published an article about back in 2000 for GamCare, the gambling charity I co-founded with Paul Bellringer in 1997).”
He also believes that behavioural addictions can be just as dangerous as drug addictions.
Dr Griffiths identified South Korea as “a country that has taken crypto trading addiction seriously.” Their government is one of the few governments anywhere in the world that has introduced rules to inhibit cryptocurrency speculation.
Views from the International Financial Industry on the Risks Involved
According to a Market Watch article:
“[South Korea’s] proposed measures…range from levying capital-gain taxes on trading cryptocurrencies, to restricting financial firms from holding, acquiring and investing in them…The new regulations come amid mounting concern within South Korea about the potential for people to become addicted to bitcoin trading”.
South Korea’s prime minister, Lee Nak-Yon, went as far as to say that the increasing interest in cryptocurrencies could “lead to some serious distorted or pathological phenomenon”.
Many financial experts are of the opinion that Bitcoin is a bubble ready to burst and some investment experts have discouraged people to buy and trade with Bitcoin due to its incredible volatility. In January 2018, Merrill Lynch, the brokerage arm of Bank of America, banned its financial advisors from trading Bitcoin for their clients because it is “too much of a risk” for investors. Nordea, the Nordic region’s biggest bank also banned cryptocurrency trading in February 2018 due to the high risks involved.
In February China announced it was going to to block all websites related to cryptocurrency trading and initial coin offerings (ICOs) – including foreign platforms – in a bid to finally quash the market completely. Reports claim a “virtual-currency trading mania” swept China. The “frenzy” among retail investors led to huge price volatility and several reported incidents of fraud, causing a headache for regulators increasingly worried about social unrest.
What is Gamblers Anonymous?
In response to the huge increase in gambling activity in the digital age, Gamblers Anonymous (GA), a twelve step fellowship, is very active worldwide.
Twelve Step recovery organisations have been around ever since Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) began in 1935. They remain the most effective resource for people suffering from every kind of addiction, helping millions of people.
The support and example of others that is found in these organisations are a hugely powerful influence in helping a compulsive gambler to halt their addictive behaviour and learn new habits
What do we offer at Castle Craig Hospital?
Potential clients to Castle Craig would be suffering serious consequences of some kind – perhaps threat of bankruptcy, extreme isolation, depression or even suicidal ideation.
Castle Craig offers a long-established Gambling Addiction programme and we have treated people for all forms of day trading and spread betting addictions.
Our treatment combines the Twelve Step recovery programme of personal change through self discovery, honest recognition of the problem and the need for help.
Patients take personal responsibility for their recovery and share their experience in therapy groups and individual counselling sessions. In addition, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is used whereby patients face reality and learn practical measures to effect changes and learn new habits.
Further insight into our cryptocurrency addiction treatment programme can be gained from our Cryptocurrency Addiction section
*Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK.