The pandemic and a volatile crypto market have spurred a trading frenzy in digital currencies. And now, luxury rehab centres are cropping up around the world, promising to treat “crypto addiction”.
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Most of the rehab centres discovered appear to be of the luxe variety, and also offer treatment for other addictions: narcotics, alcohol and eating disorders. Three rehab centres and two addiction clinics that were contacted said they have received hundreds of related queries in the past two years.
But addiction experts are sceptical whether crypto trading warrants such an exorbitant intervention.
“The treatment for crypto addiction is similar to other addictions,” says Anna Lembke, a psychiatry professor at Stanford University and chief of the Stanford Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic.
“It’s a biopsychosocial disease so it requires a biopsychosocial intervention: medications in some cases, individual and group psychotherapy, changing habits and environment, (or) implementing healthier replacement activities.”
But, she adds, the cost is not always justified. Experts like her argue that it’s akin to gambling and should be treated as such.
“They are making money off desperate people,” says Lia Nower, director at the Centre for Gambling Studies in Rutgers School of Social Work. “Whether you’re ‘addicted’ to trading crypto, betting on sports, or playing the lottery, your symptoms and treatment will be largely the same.”
Like other addictions, treatment for crypto addiction should begin with abstinence and managing withdrawal symptoms – which could include anxiety, irritability and insomnia, Ms Lembke said. “
No crypto trading or viewing for at least four weeks, which gives the brain a chance to reset reward pathways. The [withdrawal] symptoms are usually time-limited and can be managed with emotional support and reassurance that they will eventually go away.”
In the long run, treatment would also include healthier options for financial investment, she added.
Treating crypto addiction is a nascent business, so it doesn’t yet require specific certifications. Most of the therapists and rehab centre executives the BBC spoke to describe themselves as certified counsellors for mental health and a variety of addictions, from alcohol to substance abuse, gaming and gambling.
The centres argue that while crypto addiction has strong parallels with gambling, it’s also more addictive – for one, it’s more exciting because it’s so unstable, and the trades can happen round the clock.
“Crypto trading has an air of being legitimate, whilst gambling is more talked about as being potentially problematic,” said Jan Geber, chief executive at Zurich-based rehab centre Paracelsus Recovery.
Seeking help is also less common, he adds, because crypto trading is largely unregulated. In contrast, some countries require gambling platforms and casinos to proactively identify and exclude problem gamblers, or provide information and tools on how they should manage signs of addiction.
The signs of a crypto addiction are not too different either.
Those who are addicted to crypto trading start to increasingly turn to it as a source of “excitement and pleasure in their lives”, said Aaron Sternlicht, who runs New York-based Family Addiction Specialist with his wife, Lin.
He says tell-tale signs include lying, stealing, debt; facing difficulties relaxing or sleeping; monitoring crypto prices at all hours; and trading at the expense of relationships, career and education opportunities.