Crypto addiction: a hidden epidemic?
A brief overview of the possible mental health consequences of chronic token instability
When Matt Danzico first started seeing cryptocurrency logos in grocery packaging, he knew he had a problem. Danzico had been drawn into the global digital currency trading craze during the pandemic, and very quickly he became an obsession.
âI would have these sleepless nights where I tossed and turned, trying to get those graphics out of my head,â said the Barcelona-based designer and visual journalist. “I thought I was losing my mind.”
Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ethereum are known for their volatility, and the 39-year-old has seen “years of money won and lost in a very short period of time.”
His emotions went on a similar roller coaster ride, not helped by the fact that he was speculating in the depths of a COVID-19 lockdown. His wife noticed that he was getting anxious and angry.
Danzico refuses to elaborate on the damage the experience caused to his finances – suffice it to say that “for our bank account it was bad”.
Reflecting months later on a trip to the United States, the cheerful American mostly feels relieved that he nipped his addiction in the bud fairly quickly.
But as cryptocurrencies have shifted from a niche interest to a more mainstream one, Danzico says much darker experiences than his are unfolding around the world.
âWe are talking about tens of millions of people trading cryptocurrencies,â he said.
“If a small fraction of these people get addicted, we’re talking about a potential mental health crisis on the rise on a scale that I don’t think the world has ever seen.”
THE DARKNESS OF CRYPTO TWITTER
Danzico points out that you don’t need to look any further than Twitter, where crypto enthusiasts congregate, to get a feel for the mental health consequences of chronic token instability. Tweets from âpeople discussing deep depression, really extreme thoughts of isolation and suicideâ often accompany the falls in value. In September, a story of a Czech man about his disastrous attempt to get rich off crypto – soaring in debt as he tried to recoup his losses – went viral on Twitter.
Depressed and homeless, he was too ashamed to ask for help.
“When I called my mom, I just said everything was fine, I [a] good job, place to sleep. I was actually starving, âwrote user named Jirka, who has since started to rebuild her life.
Disturbed by his own experience and others described online, Danzico began researching crypto addiction, writing his findings in an article for the crypto news site Cointelegraph. He found only one small-scale crypto addiction study in Turkey and a few therapists offering professional help, from Thailand to the United States.
Experts view the phenomenon as a form of gambling addiction, noting similarities to Wall Street traders whose investments have gotten out of hand.
Castle Craig, a Scottish rehabilitation clinic, describes crypto addiction as a “modern day epidemic”. The problem is more common among men, the clinic notes on its website, “but it could simply be because women trade less cryptocurrency than men.”
ART AS THERAPY
For Danzico, it is âalarmingâ that more specialized help is not available. Part of the problem, he suspects, is that people don’t really realize how dominant crypto speculation has become. The Crypto.com trading platform estimated in July that 221 million people were now trading globally. That figure has more than doubled in six months as millions of people began to dabble while stranded at home during the pandemic. It wasn’t until after Danzico started trading himself that he started noticing signs that other traders were all over the place.
A neighbor would howl every time Ethereum rose; he saw young men in the streets worrying about a crypto card on a phone screen. Danzico has given up his own habit by pouring his obsession with photography, using a light projector to overlay images of logos and cryptographic graphics on the world around him.
Finding a way to express how the all-consuming trade had become “kind of pushed me past it,” he said.
He now sells, with avowed irony, digital versions of the images in the form of NFTs – non-fungible tokens, for which he is paid in ethereum.
Danzico still owns crypto assets and believes decentralized finance has a bright future. But he wants society to face what he sees as “a huge mental health crisis.”
âYou have kids who literally become millionaires in their parents’ basements and then lose everything before rushing to dinner,â he said.
“What we can do is start talking about it.”
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