It starts out innocently.
Maybe you have a friend who mentions success with investing in or trading cryptocurrency, or you hear about it on a podcast or read about it on Reddit. You’re drawn in but perhaps you’re not all in, not at first. You download a few beginner-friendly crypto apps like Gemini or Phemex. You spend some time exploring options on Robinhood. You do a few minor trades. Then you do more. And more.
Soon, you’re seeing what all the rage about buying and trading crypto has been about. This is fun. This is the real deal. Your veins are pumping hard with adrenaline. You lose sleep, lose appetite and maybe even start losing money. But you keep going. Like any true addict, you believe you don’t really need to stop or, perhaps, believe that you cannot stop.
Addiction to Crypto Is, At Heart, Addiction to Gambling
“Crypto addiction is the pathological obsession and compulsion to buy/sell cryptocurrency, as well as the uncontrolled desire to constantly check price action or update oneself on crypto-related news in preparation to make a trade,” said Lin Sternlicht, LMHC, an addiction specialist and co-founder of Family Addiction Specialist, based in New York City.
At its root, crypto addiction is no different than an addiction to gambling.
“Crypto addiction is fairly new in the last decade; however, it is simply gambling addiction,” said Vineel Maharaj, a licensed psychotherapist in California.
This is good news in the sense that we have a ton of resources available to understand and treat gambling addiction, , as one of the oldest addictions in the book. But it’s bad news in that gambling addictions are often not taken as seriously as they should be and, according to recent studies, result in the highest number of all addiction-related suicides per year.
What Makes Crypto So Addictive?
In and of itself, cryptocurrency isn’t addictive — but that can all change when our brain enters the mix.
“Like all addictions, crypto addiction centers in the brain,” Sternlicht said. “When the price of Bitcoin surges due to its volatility, the individual in an open trade receives a rush of dopamine, bringing about a feeling of pleasure. Over time, individuals who become addicted to crypto trading become dependent on trading in order to induce pleasure in their lives.”
Crypto is uniquely addictive because assets are available all day, every day — and all night, every night.
“Crypto assets trade 24/7/365,” said Ryan Hansen, head of sales for Mercury Digital Assets. “So you can always get a real-time look at your portfolio holdings, which may fluctuate dramatically since crypto is a young, relatively volatile asset class. This can be compounded by apps pushing notifications, so you don’t even have to log in to (access) engaging content that gets served up continuously on platforms like YouTube.”
Additionally, Hansen noted, crypto price activity is flooding media of all kinds, requiring a very disciplined effort to avoid looking at things that may affect your investments.
“Like buying stocks or any other asset class, it is exciting to watch your holdings increase in value and even more exciting when it happens quickly,” Hansen said, “so it is part human nature to want to get a dopamine hit when the market goes your way.”
How Can You Stop Yourself From Falling Down the Rabbit Hole?
It’s all too easy to sit back and say, “Ah, that will never be me. I’ll never not be able to control myself.” Maybe you’re right. But there’s no real way of knowing whether your brain will click with something inherently addictive in a problematic way.
It’s important to stay vigilant and actively guard yourself against falling down the rabbit hole of crypto addiction. You can’t really predict whether an addiction will arise, so you can’t really plan a path to prevent one — but you can watch out for signals that something isn’t right.
Signs You Have a Problem
According to Sternlicht, some signs of crypto addiction may include:
Spending more time trading crypto, checking charts or engaging in crypto-related research.
Unsuccessful attempts to stop trading.
Taking increased risk without much strategy, or finding yourself making bigger investments in order to experience the same sense of pleasure.
Loss of interest in other activities and relationships.
Experiencing stress, depression, anxiety, mood swings, irritability, insomnia or other unwanted and unhealthy mental health symptoms as a result of trading or being unable to trade.
Continuing to trade despite adverse consequences to financial stability, relationships, career, mental or physical health, or other important life areas.
How to End the Addiction
“The first step to stopping a crypto addiction is recognition of the problem and a desire to stop,” Sternlicht said. “With awareness of the problem and a willingness to change, there are many steps one can take to overcome a crypto addiction.”
What works depends on the person and the intensity of the situation.
“Those who experience pervasive crypto addiction or who have had unsuccessful attempts at stopping or moderating on their own may need to seek help from an addiction specialist,” Sternlicht said. “In lieu of professional help, some may benefit from mutual help meetings such as Gamblers Anonymous or SMART Recovery.”
In the meantime, you should take practical steps to distance yourself from crypto activities by deleting crypto-related apps and websites from digital devices.
“Some may also choose to have their finances monitored by a trusted loved one who is aware of their problem,” Sternlicht said. “It’s also very important to engage in other natural and healthy sources of pleasure such as re-engaging in hobbies and activities that you enjoyed prior to addiction or trying new ones, exercising, going out in nature, socializing with friends and family, and other such pleasurable behaviors that will also help fend off boredom and thoughts of trading.”
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