A castle is now home to the first clinic treating crypto addicts

Being addicted to trading bitcoin is similar to a gambling addiction, but there's little research into how to help.

Man gesturing with hand in therapy meeting
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Amongst the many pitfalls of cryptocurrency — and there really are plenty of them — one not often discussed is addiction. Playing the crypto-trading game can be just as addictive as gambling, which is to say very addictive, because it functions under many of the same risk / reward tenets as playing cards or roulette.

Because it’s a more recent phenomenon, crypto addiction has not been studied anywhere near as extensively as, say, drug or gambling addictions. At least one clinic is attempting to help people with crypto addictions, though.

Castle Craig was founded in 1988 with the express intent of helping those suffering from addictions — since then the clinic has developed treatment programs for alcohol addiction, prescription drug addiction, cocaine addiction, and compulsive gambling addictions.

Tony Marini, a therapist at Castle Craig, told Decrypt he’s seen the number of crypto addiction inquiries increase tenfold since last year. He’s committed to treating crypto addiction patients even if the wider medical world hasn’t caught up just yet.

The elusive dopamine hit — Buying and selling cryptocurrency is attractive to newcomers for a variety of reasons, but one of the most powerful is the potential for your investments to multiply many times over in a fairly short period of time. But it’s also very, very easy for that money you put down to suddenly depreciate in value.

Tony Marini on the grounds of Castle Craig.Decrypt

Marini sees this process as intrinsically similar to gambling. The promise of a quick win — and, therefore, a sizable hit of dopamine — can effortlessly slip into a cycle of cravings and losses that turns life-consuming.

Like gambling, a crypto addiction is often bolstered by other addictions — especially when drugs or alcohol are involved. Marini says these cross-addictions are the biggest problem he’s seen thus far; many times the crypto addiction isn’t even discovered until a patient has begun treatment for another addiction. Sometimes crypto, he says, can become a crutch addiction patients lean on as an escape to cope with drug or alcohol withdrawals.

Lots to learn — Marini has treated a total of 15 crypto addiction patients since 2017. Now that cryptocurrency trading has gone mainstream, he’s seen far more informational requests about Castle Craig’s program than ever before.

Marini is committed to creating space for those who need help breaking their crypto addiction. But there are many barriers to creating more programs like Castle Craig’s. Many therapists are either unfamiliar with crypto culture or don’t feel knowledgeable discussing how it’s different from a gambling addiction.

Like phone addictions, crypto addictions are difficult to treat because they revolve around technology that’s both relatively new and constantly evolving. Marini says that, while we wait for more research, the best thing someone with a crypto addiction can do is seek out help from a gambling addiction professional.