Cryptocurrency is a digital currency that allows owners of the currency to buy and sell goods and services online or trade them for profit. Often referred to as coins or tokens, cryptocurrency operates using a technology called blockchain which is decentralized and spread across the world through various computers that manage and record the digital transactions. It is appealing to many users because it is decentralized (not controlled by a single entity, country, or government) and it is thought to have higher security than traditional currency. Some of the most famous types of cryptocurrency are Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple XRP, Litecoin, and, most recently, Dogecoin.

 

For years, cryptocurrency was a niche piece of the market and internet. Years ago, it was often used to purchase drugs and other illegal items off darknet platforms like Silk Road. However, over the last several years, cryptocurrency has gone mainstream, most recently with the rise in NFT’s (non-fungible tokens), businesspeople and celebrities like Elon Musk and Mark Cuban praising its value and functionality, and many people worldwide seeing such a decentralized, secure currency as the currency of the future. As cryptocurrency has risen in popularity, with more traditional financial institutions like banks and well-known companies getting into the space, there has become a frenzy of movement on online trading platforms to buy and sell Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dogecoin, and other cryptocurrencies. More individuals are entering into the market, regularly day trading cryptocurrency, and trying to capitalize on low entry points with the hope that these coins will shoot up in value. As an example, about a year ago, single Bitcoin was worth between $8000 and $10,000. A year later, the price of a single Bitcoin regularly fluctuates between $50,000 and $60,000. Many financial experts feel that cryptocurrency is a bubble that soon will burst, while others say that these cryptocurrencies are going more mainstream and are truly the wave of the future, claiming the prices for cryptocurrency will only continue to rise.

 

At the intersection of the rising popularity of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, and new, easily accessible online trading platforms like Robinhood, is a dangerous place for many uninformed individuals looking to get into trading cryptocurrency that is ripe for addiction and addictive behaviors. Similar to drugs and alcohol, and mirroring gambling addiction, cryptocurrency offers individuals an opportunity to trade coins for the “rush.” The thrill of gambling, the hope of a financial windfall, and the cheap access point is creating a dangerous arena where many individuals are betting large sums of money, and often facing potentially dangerous consequences.

 

The day-trading and overall trading of cryptocurrencies is closely associated with gambling addiction and the adrenaline rush often felt by using drugs and alcohol. Unlike traditional stock traders, individuals consistently engaged in the daily or ongoing trading of cryptocurrencies are in fact not really engaged for the purpose of long-term investment, but instead are simply gambling, feeding their gambling addiction. Similar to gambling or drug and alcohol use, the feelings or effects of the trading in cryptocurrency is what the user is looking for. And cryptocurrency trading can have similar symptoms to gambling addiction or substance use disorder. Examples are obsessive compulsive behaviors, anxiety, fluctuation between mood, elevated stress, and physical effects like muscle tension. The effects can be getting a rush. The constant availability and access to cryptocurrency trading through technology like smart phones and computers means that those addicted to cryptocurrency never have to truly disengage from the behavior. Often, individuals addicted in this manner find themselves constantly and obsessively thinking about cryptocurrency or waking up in the middle of the night to track the cost of the tokens or coins. The high risk/high reward nature, high volatility, price fluctuations, and unpredictability of the cryptocurrency market appeals to the type of individual that engages in problem or addictive gambling, or the addictive personality type that is at risk for substance use disorder or addiction. An additional major issue that occurs for individuals engaged in daily or regular trading of cryptocurrencies is the emotional state that can be influenced daily, if not hourly, but the unpredictability of the crypto market. Hourly or minutely checking of prices that can change drastically minute-to-minute can create a rollercoaster-like effect on the individual. The cryptocurrency market itself thrives on euphoria, so unlike traditional stocks, daily traders of cryptocurrency looking for extreme positive outcomes can be impacted drastically in a negative fashion when the price of coins or tokens dips or crashes. This unrealistic and often frantic market can also create crashes of depression, and individuals without much disposable income that have invested what money they do have into cryptocurrency risk emotional reactions and feelings of unworthiness when prices dip or do not rise as high as they had hoped for. The frantic nature of cryptocurrency trading supports other thrill-seeking behavior, such as drug and alcohol use or addiction, or taps into mental health concerns, such as anxiety, depression, mania, or self-medicating.

 

While any type of stock trading is ripe with risk, the nature of the cryptocurrency market has produced even more concern related to gambling addiction and substance misuse. The thrill-seeking begets more thrill-seeking; the hope of a large payout for a minimal investment; the type of rush one gets from making a bit of money on an investment and then “letting it ride” or just deciding to “plop it on top” continues the dangerous cycle of addictive and problematic gambling. And problem gambling often exists hand-in-hand with dangerous and thrill-seeking substance use or substance abuse behaviors.

 

Individuals who are interested or engaged in cryptocurrency trading should heed any concerns or dangerous behaviors they may identify or notice during the process. Make sure they educate themselves on the market, learn about the market, and make informed decisions based on that objective research. If concerning behaviors begin, it is important to acknowledge them and to seek help in changing those negative behaviors. Furthermore, it is important that they be able to identify why they may be engaging in this type of cryptocurrency trading. Examples might be using it for an escape from stress, boredom, or life responsibilities; providing temporary relief from stress or feelings of sadness, worry, or loneliness; replacing other addictive behaviors; thrill-seeking or needing to feel a rush or “feeling alive.”

 

Some of the specific behaviors that might occur include: spending too much time online, trading or checking the prices of cryptocurrency; spending more and more money, often money they don’t have; borrowing money from family or friends to invest into cryptocurrency; spending more money to recoup losses; lying to family, friends, and loved ones regarding their cryptocurrency trading, behaviors, or amounts being invested; experiencing mood swings based on the fluctuation of the market; feelings of restlessness or irritability based on the fluctuation of the market or when attempting to cut down or to stop engaging in trading of cryptocurrency; constantly hoping or believing that everything will be okay based upon the “next big win”; minimizing the problem or outright denying the problem.

 

Let us look at an example. We’ll call this person Craig. Craig is a well-meaning, educated professional, married to a loving wife (we’ll call her Marissa) and the father of three beautiful children. Living in North Carolina, Craig becomes interested in the market based on some news stories he is seeing regarding GameStop. He opens up a Robinhood account, with the intention of investing a small amount of funds, for fear of missing out on what he thinks is a good opportunity. While doing research, he begins to learn about cryptocurrency. A working professional, Craig understands he has some disposable income that he will put into his account and begins some daily trading. However, overwhelmed with enthusiasm and enjoyment about playing the market and feeling hopeful that cryptocurrency can offer a huge financial return, Craig begins to get caught up in the cryptocurrency frenzy. He sees “To the moon” tweets from Elon Musk and reads that an EFT piece of art recently sold for $69 million. He is swept up in excitement and enthusiasm. He adds money daily to his account to purchase different cryptocurrencies. The constant price swings begin to impact his mood and emotional state. One day he is up thousands, the next day he has lost all that and then some. He begins to put more and more money into Bitcoin and Litecoin. Going from several thousand dollars of disposable income, he begins to stop spending money in other areas so that he can put more money into his trading account. He lies to his wife about how much he is investing, while attempting the dissuade her from spending money in other places so that he would have more money to put into the market. When confronted by his wife on where the money is going from their account, Craig is first dishonest, then admits he has put more money into the market than they initially agreed to but minimizes his behaviors. When his wife becomes upset and angry, Craig attempts to explain how much money they are going to make eventually, hoping on the one big payoff. As Craig continues to invest money and stay in the cryptocurrency market, the more the market goes down, and the more money Craig (and everyone else) continues to lose. In an attempt to stop his cryptocurrency investing, Craig seeks alternative outlets for his thrill seeking and gambling, such as online shopping, going to a casino, or placing online orders for large purchases, such as new cars or boats. This impacts his financial situation, his relationship with his wife and children, and his emotional well-being. Now, let’s say Craig is a person in long-term recovery, and easily susceptible to addictive behaviors. We can picture him pounding energy drinks, staying up all hours of the night reading about cryptocurrency and trading tokens. We could easily see him becoming overwhelmed with anxiety, fear, and stress, as well as riding the emotional highs when the cryptocurrency prices rise. Therefore, we could easily envision these behaviors and feelings leading to drives Craig back to using drugs and alcohol. While this is obviously a completely made-up story, it is not out of the realm of possibility for individuals at risk of such addictive behaviors and mirrors many of the behaviors often associated with problem gambling, gambling addiction, substance misuse, or substance use disorder. This fictitious scenario begs the question: Was Craig really interested in engaging in the market to invest, or did the cryptocurrency frenzy feed of his addictive disposition and further his behaviors? Was this really about investing in cryptocurrency, or was this just a delusional attempt to feed a gambling addiction or substance use disorder?

 

As this extreme example demonstrates, even a successful, educated, and informed individual can get caught up in the thrill-seeking culture of cryptocurrency trading. Individuals who identify they may be experiencing these potentially dangerous and risky behaviors should seek help and support from a trained professional or treatment center that can help with such behavioral disorders. If there are also co-occurring issues such as addiction or substance misuse, they may also seek the professional help of an addiction treatment facility or a rehab center that treats dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders.

 

Like any trading of stocks, cryptocurrency trading has risks and rewards. However, for such a new, volatile, and unpredictable space, individuals that are susceptible to addiction or addictive behaviors should proceed with caution. If there is any indication that this hobby or interest is becoming problematic, make sure to seek out help as soon as possible.

 

If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorder issues, please give us a call. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive dual diagnosis addiction treatment in the Mid-Atlantic area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at (410) 773-0500 or email our team at info@marylandaddictionrecovery.com. For more information on all of our drug addiction, alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorder services and recovery resources, please visit our website at www.marylandaddictionrecovery.com.

Zach Snitzer is the Corporate Director of Marketing at Maryland Addiction Recovery Center and is responsible for the business development, marketing, branding, public relations and social media strategies of the organization.