Castle Craig Hospital opened up more than 30 years ago in Scotland, U.K., to treat alcoholism and other forms of drug and behavioral addictions — it now offers rehabilitation programs for cryptocurrency addicts.
One 29-year-old in the program — who asked to be identified as Roy and said he was from the Netherlands — explained he had a history of abusing alcohol and other drugs, finally getting clean in 2017 and finding work as an addiction counselor for nearly four years.
But when he discovered cryptocurrencies in 2021, he said he saw a unique opportunity and invested a couple of thousand dollars in Binance’s BNB token, which turned into US$8,000 within two weeks.
“I think the first success basically gave me a feeling of control, of power, of unlimited potential because there’s no limit to what you can earn,” he told Forkast in an interview. “It’s an unbelievable feeling sitting behind your computer screen and just watching that number go up and up and up and up every day. And yeah, that got me hooked pretty bad,” Roy said.
People seeking help for crypto addiction at Castle Craig are not just isolated cases. The AAVE U.K.-based crypto lending and borrowing platform started up a rehabilitation program in Zug, Switzerland, in 2019 for people addicted to cryptocurrency trading. AAVE said in a press release that the mental and physical health of many people are at risk and it wanted to help the community.
A bet too far
At Castle Craig, compulsive crypto trading is treated as a form of gambling addiction.
“When you cross that line into [crypto trading] addiction, it’s exactly the same as gambling. It’s that constant need to either trade or to put a bet on,” said Tony Marini, senior specialist therapist at Castle Craig, who leads the gambling, gaming and cryptocurrency trading addiction therapy program.
“It doesn’t matter about the money, you know, it’s about getting that trade on. It’s about getting that bet on,” Marini told Forkast in an interview.
The “unbelievable feeling” Roy refers to is quite familiar to Marini, who speaks from experience as a former gambling, alcohol, and cocaine addict who’s been in recovery for 17 years.
“It’s the excitement, the volatility of it going up and down and seeing it, that produces adrenaline, the endorphins, the dopamine that my brain says, I really like that,” Marini said. The possibility of wealth gives birth to fantasy and a want for a better life, and as investors chase that fantasy they cross into addiction territory, he said.
See related article: The problems with retail crypto trading — and how to solve them
Lia Nower, professor and director of the Center for Gambling Studies and Addiction Counselor Training (ACT) Program at Rutgers University, says addictive behavior overwhelms other activities.
“When you begin being preoccupied with this [crypto trading] more and more on a daily basis where your thoughts of trading are intruding into other life activities, responsibilities,” it’s a sign of addiction, Nower told Forkast in an interview.
Another indicator is “chasing,” where investors keep pouring more money into the market in the hopes of winning it all back. More rational traders are cautious, switch to other investments, or invest what they can afford to lose, Nower said.
But “a person who’s gambling on cryptos will go, ‘Oh, my gosh, I lost all this money. There’s no other way of making it back. But cryptos are going to take off again. So I’m going to pour more money.’”
That fits the pattern of Roy, who started to broaden his investment into meme coins and other cryptocurrencies, and because he got in before the all-time highs of last year, he said he managed to turn US$3,000 into around half a million dollars.
He then lost it all as the market crashed this year, became depressed, turned back to drug use, and ended up seeking help at Castle Craig.
See related article: Crypto trading volumes dip to 18-month low amid bear market
Highs and lows
“I just got hooked on the rush it gave. I mean, the first US$100,000 was just insane. I never knew it was possible to have a way to earn money that easily because it is easy,” Roy said.
“All that money inflated my ego … I thought I was better than anyone. I thought I’d made it. Nobody could tell me anything,” he said. But as his investments withered this year, Roy said he became “a shell” of what he was before.
Gambling addictions are regarded in the mental health profession as process addictions, like sex addiction, in which people compulsively follow a certain process or activity.
“And believe it or not, they’re not in it for the money,” said Theo De Vries, managing director of The Diamond, an addiction rehabilitation facility in Thailand.
De Vries said a cocaine addict will use up whatever supply he has before thinking about anything else, such as getting some rest. “And it’s the same with gambling addicts,” he said.
Gambling addicts are not necessarily happy when they keep winning because they are not doing it for the money, De Vries said. “They are satisfied when all the money is gone because then they have that same feeling as that cocaine addict when the coke is gone and they think, OK, finally I can go to sleep.”
This is why crypto trading addicts find it difficult to cash out, De Vries said. Roy said he didn’t cash out because he saw it as a chance to earn enough to be set for life.
“I took that money [profits] and just spread it across multiple projects. I thought, if I could do this with one project, why not with 10 or 20 projects?”
Roy said he believes he was “lucky” since he only lost unrealized profits, but crypto trading addicts lose more than just money.
Addiction becomes the most important thing in your life, De Vries said, and it damages work and social life, financial health, and relationships with partners and family members, he added.
Marini at Castle Craig said substance abuse addictions are easier to detect, but the signs of a gambling or crypto trading addiction are anxiety, depression, and panic attacks when the markets turn against an addict.
Then they start borrowing money, lying, and manipulating, which is the downward spiral that can lead to suicidal thoughts, he added. Addicts usually become isolated and withdrawn, neglecting personal relationships, social life, and work responsibilities, Marini added.
There are “problems with the law, work, family, friends, emotional breakdowns, hopelessness, a lot of self-harm, starting with and obviously, secondary addictions and chronic depression,” he said.
“We’re seeing a big increase of people coming in with some sort of crypto trading that has been unhealthy and taking them back to drugs and alcohol or just gambling,” Marini said.
Like with all addictions, the first step to recovery for crypto trading addicts is realizing there is a problem and seeking help, Marini said, adding it is often family members that detect the problem and seek help while the addict remains in denial.
Addicts entering programs like those at Castle Craig go through one-on-one as well as group therapy sessions to identify underlying issues that can lead to addiction, such as past trauma or depression and other mental health issues.
These underlying issues become the focus of the treatment using therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as well as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. Marini recommends complete abstinence from crypto trading to avoid relapse, just as is the case with substance addiction treatments.
In fact, to avoid getting addicted to crypto trading, Marini advises people to simply “sell what you have and do not get back into it.”
However, “crypto trading is not inherently addictive. So if just a random person starts trading, it doesn’t mean that they will get hooked,” Jan Gerber, chief executive officer of Paracelsus Recovery, an addiction treatment center for high net worth individuals based in Zurich, Switzerland, told Forkast.
The people who need to be careful are those with traumatic experiences, a history of addiction in the family, depression, or those experiencing stress to the point of burnout, said Gerber.
They are “more prone to getting hooked to these positive chemicals [in the brain like dopamine] than they get from the volatility of being actually invested in the crypto market and especially when they win.”