How many times a day do you check crypto prices? How often do you obsessively read crypto Twitter? Has it hurt your relationships? Has it caused you to loaf at your job?
Or to cut to the quick: Are you addicted to crypto?
For most people, thankfully, the answer is that crypto is rarely a full-fledged addiction that requires treatment or a deep bout of soul searching. But sometimes it’s serious. Sometimes it can ruin lives.
Theo de Vries is the Managing Director of The Diamond Rehab, a drug and alcohol treatment center located in Thailand, and he also treats patients for crypto addiction. Or more accurately, the addiction is usually a combination of crypto and something else. “People inquire because they’re addicted to cocaine and crypto,” said de Vries as an example. “People say ‘I have an alcohol problem, and I also have a crypto problem.’”
Crypto addiction is essentially a gambling addiction. “We treat it the same way,” said de Vries. He acknowledges that some people dismiss gambling as “an almost laughable addiction,” but notes that when it’s acute and extreme, gambling has the “highest suicide rate of all the addictions.”
But enough generalities. To give a starker picture of how crypto addiction can impact someone’s life, we spoke to an actual patient of de Vries’ who was willing to share his story. The patient is 38, has two young kids, owns a marketing company and chose to remain anonymous for obvious reasons.
This is his story.
Interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
How did this all begin?
In 2016 I heard about Ethereum. And I bought a lot. And then a friend bought all of these other cryptocurrencies; I got really excited and I started buying altcoins. And before I knew it, every day for the entire day, my whole mind was devoted to finding the next new coin.
Were you day trading?
No, I never really did any trading, it was more buying into projects. But I spent all day studying all of these new projects. I was in all of these Facebook groups and talking to other people. I’m very nontechnical, so it cost me a lot of time and frustration to learn about everything. At some point it got quite out of hand, but it was still manageable.
How so exactly?
I could see my daily work suffering. But I was also making really good money from it, because everything was going up. My girlfriend was saying, “You’re spending all of this time on the computer. What do you do all day?” But I still thought everything was fine. In hindsight it wasn’t fine, but it felt okay in that moment.
When did things shift?
I got hacked. I was very careless. I had bought a Ledger [crypto wallet], but I never opened it, and my crypto was all on an online MyEtherWallet. It got hacked, and I lost almost everything.
How much did you lose?
At the time it was a few hundred thousand dollars.
I’m sorry man. And I hate to ask this, but does that mean that in today’s dollars, it’d be worth millions?
Yeah. That’s correct.
That’s a hell of a gut punch.
Yeah. Yeah. [long pause.] Yeah. And I also felt stupid because people had warned me, “Don’t keep it all in your online wallet.” But I was too lazy. So maybe that’s a good lesson for others. Make sure you invest the time in crypto security.
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It sounds like up to this point, crypto might have been time intensive, but it hadn’t really caused any big problems in your life, besides the hack. So what happened next?
Then it really started to get out of hand. I tried to win that money back. I wanted to find the next new gem.
The next coin that would “100X”?
Yeah. And I thoroughly obsessed over it. And I knew that I couldn’t just put in a few hundred dollars, because to recoup all the money I had lost, then it would need to 2,000X. I needed to put in more money.
In the beginning, before the hack, I had my own business and was making good money. I had plenty of disposable income. That’s all I invested into crypto. But then, after the hack, when I needed more money, I started getting creative on getting more funds.
At first I took out a loan. And this was a really ugly loan, where you pay a lot of interest. And then I started to get letters about the loan. And my girlfriend started to worry. And then I asked for a loan from my friends. Then my parents. Then came the stealing, which is a part I’m really not proud of. This was the last straw.
Can you share what happened? How’d you approach your friends and family for money?
I was a bit ashamed about always talking enthusiastically about crypto, so when I asked to borrow money I said something like, “Hey, I have this problem with my bank account.” Or since people knew that I had my own business, I’d say something like, “Hey, I’m waiting for money from this client.” Or maybe “I’m just waiting for a few invoices to clear, so I just need a bit of money for this one-off situation.” And then I’d use that money for crypto.
And you’d put the money in some new altcoin?
Yeah. It was a lie.
How did you approach your parents?
My parents were always really nice to me. Super nice people. Maybe too nice. And for my parents, I was too embarrassed to ask them for a loan. And I knew the pin code for my mother’s bank account and her bank card. At one point I stole some money. It wasn’t even a huge amount, but I was kind of desperate. I really wanted to get into a certain project, and I didn’t have enough money. So I stole from them.
Did your mom ever find out what happened?
Yeah. She was of course very disappointed, and she also doubted herself. She asked herself, “What did I do wrong in raising you?” She thought it was her fault. So that was very painful.
How did all of this affect your relationship with your girlfriend?
It was a very bad time. If I was in her shoes, I would have walked. But she was very supportive even though the relationship got very bad. She found out about everything. I told her everything.
What was the addiction itself like?
I was checking prices often, but that wasn't even the biggest problem. I totally obsessed over it, and I was always watching YouTube videos. Constantly scheming and thinking about, “What's the next big thing?” And I spent a lot of time in these Facebook groups and following these sort of “gurus,” and investigating everything.
How did it affect your work?
Because I have my own business, I also have a lot of freedom. And at this point, I was only doing crypto. I was doing the very bare minimum to keep the company afloat. I’d skip meetings. I just didn’t pay any attention at all to the company. That got really bad.
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And at one point, my girlfriend said, "Yeah, you need to find some help." I found help and got into rehab for it.
What was the rehab like?
I went to an expensive one; my parents paid for it. They did a lot of one-on-one sessions. They really tried to get at the root cause of the problem. "Why did you want to make all of this money?” I was kind of surprised when they said, "We're going to treat this as a gambling addiction."
How did your behavior change?
At the beginning I thought, “Maybe I can just go through this rehab, and then maybe I'll just behave like a ‘regular’ with crypto.” You know, stay off these small projects I was obsessing over. But the rehab’s message was, “You really have a big problem. You should stop doing crypto, period.”
Did you stop?
Yeah. And as you can imagine that was tough, especially in the bull run. That was really tough. But now I just know that I can’t do it anymore. I just can’t go online. I know that if I go snooping again looking for new projects and new strategies, that will get out of hand.
How do you maintain that discipline?
They [the treatment center] taught me how to focus on other things that are giving me joy. So I got really healthy. I work out a lot. It’s sort of replacing the addiction with something that’s good, that’s keeping me sane. And now I have two kids, and they’re young, and that’s another healthy distraction.
Do you have any safeguards to keep you from checking on crypto?
Yeah, I have an app called Freedom. It lets you block certain sites, so I block all the crypto sites. And I try not to be on the computer as much. I’m limiting my screen time to have less exposure. I also block social media.
That sounds healthy for just about everyone! Last question. What advice do you have for others who are now in your shoes, and who think they might have some kind of crypto addiction?
I think it’s very easy to think, “Oh, this is not a real problem.” I see it with friends. I’m not saying they necessarily need to go into rehab, but checking your phone every minute to see if prices are going up; that’s not healthy. Acknowledge that you have a problem. That’s the first thing.
The second thing: Be safe with your crypto. Spend some time to take safety precautions. I know this is unrelated to addiction, but it’s a message that feels important to say.
Wise words, sir. Thanks again for sharing your story. Best of luck to you.
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