Cryptocurrency Addiction Treatment Program Launches In Scotland

By Paul Gaita 05/31/18

The announcement has sparked debate about the validity of digital currency addiction. 

bitcoins coming out of a smartphone

A hospital in the south of Scotland is offering what is described as the first residential treatment for dependency on cryptocurrency.

Therapists at Castle Craig Hospital in Peeblesshire, which provides treatment programs for drugs and alcohol, will apply methods used to treat gambling addiction to assist individuals who have become dependent on trading digital currencies like Bitcoin.

Though no scientific studies have been conducted to confirm whether dependency to cryptocurrency trading is an actual condition, medical professionals have concurred that the nature of bitcoin trading—which can yield or lose thousands of dollars at a moment's notice—might cause some individuals to exhibit dependency-driven behavior when using it.

In its coverage of Castle Craig's bitcoin program, Metro UK quoted Chris Burn, a gambling therapist at the facility, who drew a connection between gambling dependency and similar behaviors linked to cryptocurrency.

"The high risk, fluctuating cryptocurrency market appeals to the problem gambler," he noted. "It provides excitement and an escape from reality. Bitcoin, for example, has been heavily traded and huge gains and losses were made."

His sentiments were echoed by therapist Tony Marini, whose struggles with gambling and cocaine dependency made him an ideal choice to lead some treatment sessions at Castle Craig.

"I see cryptocurrency trading as a way for people to escape from themselves into another world, because they don't like the world they're in," he stated. "The first stage of treatment is to join other addicts in group therapy and share their life stories. It helps them identify with each other and realize they're not alone."

The notion of Bitcoin and other digital currencies as dependency-forming is not relegated to the staff at Castle Craig. The Austin, Texas-based Daily Dot referenced a 2014 online discussion on Reddit which, while largely humorous, did indicate that some users felt that Bitcoin was "like a drug" as one individual wrote.  

For Dr. Timothy Fong, an associate professor of psychiatry at UCLA, the assessment has some merit. "You could replace the words 'digital currency' with 'crack cocaine,' 'methamphetamine, 'marijuana,' or 'gambling,' and you'll see some of those same kind of ways people talk about it," he noted. 

But he is hesitant to refer to dependency issues regarding bitcoin as an actual condition. "There is truth to that," he said to the Dot. "But it's a funny statement because you could say the same thing about sex, sports, handbags, a freshly-cut lawn, an ocean view—all those things are naturally rewarding, and they activate the portion of our brain that's rewarding."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.