A study conducted by the Center of Gambling Studies at Rutgers University-New Brunswick’s School of Social Work has found that there is a link between frequent cryptocurrency trading and problematic gambling. The study was the first of its kind and the report was recently published in the Addictive Behaviors journal. The data was collected through a cross-sectional online survey of 876 “regular” gamblers (identified as those who gambled at least once a month in the past year). The goal was to discover if cryptocurrencies are associated with higher levels of gambling issues and to see how often gamblers use cryptos as a method of payment.
Cryptocurrencies and Trading
Cryptocurrency is a virtual currency that can be used like cash or bank cards for certain transactions, mostly online. There are even casinos such as Betcoin where you can only deposit cryptocurrencies instead of using “normal” money. Using blockchain technology, the coins are “mined” and then purchased in markets similar to stock markets, all without passing by a bank or central authority. The cryptography used means that all transactions made with cryptocurrencies are secure and verified. Bitcoin is the original and most widely-known cryptocurrency and became mainstream news when it traded for US$20,000 at its peak in 2017. Bitcoin is currently valued around US$4,000. Other cryptocurrencies include Litecoin, Dogecoin, Ripple, and Ethereum.
Cryptocurrency trading involves exchanging these cryptocurrencies against US dollars. As in the stock market, some people view crypto-trading as an investment opportunity. However, others treat the cryptocurrency trading market like buying and selling high-risk stocks, such as margins and options. It is this “gambling” on the markets that can get people into trouble.
The Rutgers study found that more than half of regular gamblers have also traded cryptocurrencies in the past year. With cryptocurrency trading being similar to playing casino games such as slots and online roulette but available 24/7, unregulated, and anonymous, it presents additional problems to those of regular gambling addiction.
The study also found that 75% of those trading high-risk stocks are also trading cryptocurrencies, meaning that cryptocurrency trading may be classified as an extension to this stock market activity. The volatility of markets can bring on the same dopamine spikes found in gambling, drug, and sex addictions. These spikes are what drive people to always go for more. One addict even likened cryptocurrency trading to placing bets on a never-ending horse race with new horses being introduced almost every day.
The risky aspect of crypto-trading, like high-risk stock trading, and various types of gambling provides a “rush” that can quickly become addictive. Addiction has been linked to greater depression and anxiety symptoms that may require professional help. And when a gambler combines playing, trading cryptocurrencies, and trading high-risk stocks, the symptoms are even more exaggerated.
Addiction stories have been appearing over the past six months, highlighting the problems that crypto-traders have been facing and how they are trying to get help for them. It has even brought about a new classification in addiction studies and treatments. It is either approached as a subset of gambling addiction or of day-trading/stock market trading addiction.
A short documentary presented by Motherboard on its YouTube channel highlights one such addict at the UK’s Castle Craig addiction treatment clinic. The addict interviewed was a gambler at first before turning to crypto-trading and eventually turned to drugs as well before finally reaching out for help. The rush and excitement turned to obsession and he saw himself neglecting his family and sleep just to keep checking on Bitcoin.
Other signs of addiction include feeling muscle tension and background anxiety and thinking about trading or gambling while engaged in other activities. While these symptoms can exist in mild forms without causing too many problems, sometimes they can get out of hand and in the most extreme instances lead to suicide.
For recovering addicts, routine is key as when they start having time without knowing what to do, they can find themselves falling back into their old habits. They can also check into rehab programs and follow guidelines such as the twelve-step program.
The Twelve-Step Program
The twelve-step program often associated with Alcoholics Anonymous, has been adapted as the guiding principles behind recovery from any addiction, compulsion, or behavioral problem. The process can be summarized as such:
- admitting one’s loss of control in relation to the addiction
- looking to a higher power for strength
- reflecting on past errors with the help of a sponsor
- making amends for those errors
- learning how to adapt a new code of behavior in life
- and helping others who suffer from the same addiction.
If you or someone you know needs help, reach out to organisations such as BeGambleAware in the United Kingdom, the Canada Safety Council in Canada, and the National Council on Problem Gambling in the United States.