The Rise in Crypto Addiction
When most people think of addiction, they probably picture a person who is hooked on heroin or has an alcohol addiction. Substance addictions are certainly very serious and all too common. Drugs and alcohol misuse is linked to a wide range of physical and mental health conditions but behavioural addictions can also be very destructive.
There has been a great deal of debate about whether problematic behaviour related to activities such as sex, shopping, exercising, eating and playing video games should be treated as full-blown addictions. It is certainly the case that these activities can be very damaging when undertaken in an excessive or compulsive manner.
In 2018, for example, the World Health Organisation (WHO) including gaming disorder as a condition for the first time in its 11th International Classification of Diseases (ICD).1The document described eth disorder as a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour so severe that it takes “precedence over other life interests”. Symptoms include impaired control over gaming, increased priority given to gaming and a continuation or escalation of gaming despite negative consequences.
Gambling addiction is also recognized as an extremely serious issue that can wreck lives. Many people will recklessly and compulsively gamble, often to the exclusion of all else. Crypto addiction is a relatively new problem, but it shares many of the same symptoms and issues as gambling and other behavioural addictions.
What is crypto?
Crypto, or cryptocurrency, is a digital means of exchange which use cryptography as a means of security. Some of the most well-known and biggest cryptos include Bitcoin, Ethereum, Tether and Ripple. The vast majority of cryptocurrencies operate without the backing of authorities such as a central bank or government, which fundamentally differentiates them from traditional currencies, such as the British pound or the US dollar. The crypto market is often marked by volatile behaviour, which has led UK financial watchdog the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to describe cryptocurrencies as “very high risk, speculative investments”. It added that if you invest in cryptoassets,“you should be prepared to lose all your money”.2
Investing in cryptocurrency can seem very attractive, however, with trading platforms and social media groups offering the possibility of big profits for relatively little outlay or effort. It is certainly possible to make money buying and selling crypto, and many people trade without it being a problem that even approaches the levels of addiction. Others are not so lucky though and may find themselves losing money they cannot afford to lose or spiralling into a compulsive behaviour that may end with them requiring counselling or addiction treatments.
Why is crypto addictive?
So is crypto addiction comparable to drug addiction? With drugs, longtime users run the risk of developing a physical dependency or addiction. This is because the substance can essentially ‘rewire’ the way the brain works, especially in areas such as dopamine production and processing. This affects the way the addict experiences pleasure and reward and they may find themselves constantly chasing that feeling. At the same time, other activities that used to give the addict pleasure may leave them feeling flat and see them lose interest in most things other than their next hit. They can also build up a tolerance to the substance, meaning they need more and more for the same effect or eventually even to feel normal. The reliance on the presence of the drug can lead to a range of physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms.
Cryptocurrency trading is not exactly the same situation but the very volatility of crypto trading, with the potential for extreme wins – and losses – can also bring with them equally extreme highs and lows. Price fluctuations have seen major cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin experience huge surges and lesser-known cryptos (often known as altcoins) can grow by thousands of percentage points in short periods of time. Crypto traders have often talked about the fear of missing out (FOMO) on price rallies, which can lead to a compulsion to constantly check what the prices are doing and follow crypto news and online activity.
If a trader does make a profit, this can cause a flood of ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters, creating a rush of extreme pleasure. This is very similar to the euphoria a drug user may get from their substance of choice and the trader may get addicted to chasing these highs.
What are the impacts of cryptocurrency addiction?
One of the main risks of cryptocurrency addiction is financial loss which could lead to big debts, bankruptcy and other negative impacts. This can affect relationships, family life and other aspects of your life, as can the behaviour associated with your addiction. Even if you don’t experience a major loss, becoming preoccupied with trading can lead you to neglect the people around you and other activities. Stopping crypto trading can be just as difficult as a dependent drinker giving up alcohol without attending alcohol rehab. As with gambling addiction, crypto addiction can also lead to mental health symptoms including stress, anxiety, depression and even mania. It can contribute to insomnia and some traders will often turn to stimulants such as coffee or even illegal drugs in a bid to stay sharp and alert which is likely to prove counterproductive.
Help for crypto addiction
Although it is a relatively new phenomenon with its own unique challenges, cryptocurrency addiction has a lot in common with other behavioural addictions and especially gambling addiction. As such, crypto addiction can be successfully treated via a rehabilitation programme. This will not require a detoxification period like a drug or alcohol addiction but will involve a range of therapies and other addiction treatments. This therapy will help you to explore the root causes of your addiction and change the way you think and behave. Leaving an addiction of any kind untreated can be very costly and this applies to cryptocurrency addiction as much as any other kind.
If you think you might have an addiction problem, it’s always best to seek professional help as early as possible to break the vicious cycle before any more harm can be done.