Depression and Addiction Plague Crypto Traders

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When Joanna Garzilli was in Venice, Calif., for a holiday party in 2017, the bikini-clad dancers were on stilts, the drinks were flowing, and the conversation was about one thing: cryptocurrency. It sounded so sexy, she remembered thinking. Attracted by the glamorous crowd, she then invested and succeeded: an $85,000 profit from a cryptocurrency called GRT, dreaming of life at Ritz-Carlton residences.

But soon, her trades became reckless, she says. Garzilli bet 90% of his savings in a play that lost him tens of thousands of dollars in a matter of days. She made risky investments in the viral meme currency and constantly checked her trading apps to see how much money she had made or lost. His nights grew sleepless, but Garzilli kept chasing after the next big payday.

“Crypto is like stepping into Hades,” she said. “Crypto can bring out the darker parts of ourselves if we have an addictive personality; and I have a very addictive personality.

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As the cryptocurrency boom has swelled the ranks of everyday investors chasing a life of mansions and yachts, mental health experts say it triggers an increase in addiction. Price spikes and dips provide a level of excitement that is difficult to replicate across the most volatile stocks and bonds. The highly unstable nature of cryptocurrency can reduce profits to zero in a flash, leaving investors with mountains of debt, fractured relationships and suicidal thoughts, addiction experts have said.

Therapists, like Aaron Sternlicht of New York, say they are seeing an influx of people seeking help for crypto addiction, although treatment is only available to a select few.

“A lot of people won’t end up getting treatment that needs it,” he said.

Over the past decade, cryptocurrency has gone from an oddity to a central part of financial markets and popular culture, with its market value skyrocketing from $5.4 billion to $1.8 trillion. , according to Coin Market Cap, a site that tracks cryptocurrency statistics. Meanwhile, celebrity endorsements serve as a lavish billboard for the lifestyle that cryptocurrency can provide.

For the past few months, Matt Damon has been promoting Crypto.com, an app that can help you trade cryptocurrency. Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and his wife, Gisele Bündchen, advertise for cryptocurrency exchange FTX. Influencers on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter showcase lives filled with first-class flights and luxury rooftop pools, which means crypto is the best way to make it rich.

Cryptocurrency has characteristics that make it more addiction-prone than sports betting, gambling and traditional financial investments, according to addiction experts. Crypto can be traded around the clock, unlike most stocks. People don’t need to go to a casino to invest in a coin. The price volatility of crypto, especially alternative currencies like coins, can be rapid and provide the brain with a sense of quick reward. And given the decentralized nature of crypto, it can be easier to hide the financial impacts of addiction.

Lia Nower, director of gambling studies at Rutgers University, said slick investing apps fuel addiction rates. With colorful real-time charts, trading apps like Robinhood make buying cryptocurrency a video game.

“They know what it’s like to make people more engrossed in something — that intense action, that fast rolling with that positive reward,” she said. “That’s why people love scratch off lottery tickets, because they can scratch off crazy and they get their reward in that second and it gives you a dopamine rush. These people do the same thing.

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Although the research is still developing, several recent studies document the links between cryptocurrency trading and addiction. In April, a team of Finnish researchers found that cryptocurrency traders also had high rates of gambling, video game and internet addiction. Crypto traders, who were more likely to be immigrants, also had higher levels of psychological distress and loneliness than stock traders, they found.

Ashwin Manicka, a spokesperson for Robinhood, strongly disagrees that the app plays a role in crypto addiction.

“We believe such allegations are an elitist attack on everyday people who have been empowered by intuitively designed financial products to participate in the equity and cryptocurrency markets for the first time,” he said. said in a statement. “We have yet to see hard evidence to support these anecdotal claims, and the data paints a different picture.”

Sternlicht and his wife, Lin, a team of husband-and-wife therapists in New York City who treat cryptocurrency addiction, said they’ve seen about a 40% increase in people around the world calling for their services. tailored therapy. Their services cost $2,500 for a consultation and $25,000 for a 45-day therapeutic treatment plan that is more intensive than traditional forms of talk therapy. To treat addiction, they meet with family members, have access to bank accounts and see patients several times a week.

Most of their clients come for help when they are in over six-figure debt, have ruined their relationships, are facing major bouts of depression, and have other addictions, especially alcohol, to cocaine and Adderall. Aaron Sternlicht added that people who come to their practice usually have significant wealth, but for those who don’t have a lot of means, it can be difficult to get treatment.

The American Psychological Association hasn’t classified cryptocurrency addiction as a subset of gambling addiction, Sternlicht said, creating a gray area that allows many insurance companies to deny coverage. coverage of crypto-related addiction therapy.

“There’s not enough research yet for it to be truly diagnosable,” he said.

Despite this, Nower said, people with crypto addiction don’t need to seek out specifically tailored services and can seek treatment with a gambling addiction counselor. “What you’re really addicted to is is the action of taking the risk,” she said. “Anyone who is a good gambling treatment provider can treat crypto addiction.”

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Drew Vosk, a 30-year-old cryptocurrency investor who lives near Northern Virginia, got hooked on cryptocurrency investing around 2017 when he started investing in Ethereum. From there, he became interested in cryptocurrency mining, maxing out his credit cards to buy the necessary equipment. “I spent all the money I had buying cryptocurrency and building crypto mining rigs,” he said. “I was addicted. I was obsessed.

On several occasions, he turned a $1,000 investment into $100,000, only to see those profits evaporate. When fluctuations occur, the impacts are significant. “I wake up feeling depressed,” he said. “I’m like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe this. Like, it’s just gone.

And for Garzilli, 49, living with a cryptocurrency addiction is a daily battle. When a new investment opportunity comes on his radar, the urge to invest and chase another payday’s top is strong. The same goes for the fear of missing something. “It’s like a pulling sensation in my stomach,” she said. “It’s like my whole body is trained in ‘Go ahead. Go trade.

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To manage, Garzilli enrolled in a 12-step program, similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. She forces herself to disconnect from her screen throughout the day. She walks, meditates and takes car rides if the urge to invest in a piece gets too strong. Today, she invests in less risky cryptocurrencies, and she tells herself that she must build her portfolio for her retirement.

Even still, Garzilli said government action is needed to curb scammers who prey on cryptocurrency investors and limit projects that offer little value.

“People are still going to get murdered,” she said. “Until we have stricter regulations.”

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