Interview with Dr Mark Griffiths, Nottingham Trent University, on cryptocurrency trading addiction

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This Q&A is the full interview with Dr Mark Griffiths. For our deep dive into cryptocurrency trading addiction, with contribution from the full panel of experts, please see this article. 

Below is an interview with Dr. Mark Griffiths, Chartered Psychologist and Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University. This is the full transcript of our interview, quotes from which were published in our main article on the topic here. 

For an in-depth deep dive into the topic of cryptocurrency trading addiction, and its links to gambling, please follow that link. As for Dr Griffith’s full interview, please see below.

CoinJournal (CJ): Do you think there are similarities between crypto trading addiction and gambling addiction? If so, could you please name the most notable ones?

Gambling is defined as the expenditure of money (or something of financial value) on an event of which the outcome is uncertain. Based on this definition, crypto trading is a form of gambling. 

Forms of gambling where the event frequency is high (i.e., when the number of times an individual can gamble in any given time period is potentially high) like playing slot machines, in-play betting, or card games are more associated with problem gambling and gambling addiction than activities where the event frequency is low (e.g., bi-weekly lotto game, football pools where there are only one or two opportunities a week to find out the result of your gamble). 

Crypto trading has the potential to be addictive based on the structural characteristics of the activity.


CJ: In your opinion, what is it that makes activities such as trading so addictive? 

We don’t know (as yet) the extent to which crypto trading is addictive. The way addictions develop – whether chemical or behavioural – is complex. Addictive behaviour typically develops from a combination of three sets of interacting factors: (i) individual characteristics, (ii) situational (i.e., environmental) characteristics, and (iii) structural characteristics. 

Individual characteristics include things like a person’s genetic make-up, personality traits, and attitudes. 

Situational characteristics include things in the environment that might influence engaging in the behaviour. In the case of gambling, this would include things like the number of gambling venues in an area, the marketing and advertising of gambling, and easy access to gambling like being able to gamble on your smartphone. 

Structural characteristics are the things inherent within the activity itself. In the case of gambling, this includes characteristics of the game such as the size of the jackpot, the stake size, the probability of winning, and event frequency (i.e., the number of times the game can be played in a given time period). 

When it comes to gambling addiction, very few people become addicted to playing a bi-weekly lottery game (because there are only two draws a week and is a discontinuous form of gambling) whereas far more people become addicted to slot machines because if a person has the time and money, they can gamble again and again and again (and is a continuous form of gambling). 

For crypto trading to become an addiction there has to be individual vulnerability factors and an activity that has structural characteristics that could promote excessive trading (e.g., high event frequency, potentially large financial rewards, being affordable to trade, etc.).


CJ: What are your thoughts on influencers who, in return for a fee from the founders, promote obscure cryptocurrencies to their followers with little knowledge of how it works – do you think this is problematic? 

Influencers (in the outline of the different characteristics influencing addiction above) are situational characteristics that explain how individuals may start trading in the first place. In essence, they are more likely to be part of the acquisition process rather than the development and maintenance of addictions (a bit like advertising and marketing). 

CJ: In your opinion, would the daily volatility of crypto prices impact mental health, as people see their investments go up and down so widely each day? 

Addictions quite clearly influence mental health. All addicts tend to have poorer mental health than those without addictions (although many people have poor mental health and are not addicted to anything). Volatility is a structural characteristic found in many gambling activities but both volatile and non-volatile games can be potentially addictive so (in and of itself), volatility is not necessarily a key feature explaining which activities become addictive (which consequently leads to mental health issues). 

Watching share prices go up and down will clearly influence individuals’ mood states but overall mental health is likely to be influenced by a myriad of factors and not just volatility. 


CJ: Research on crypto trading addiction is still limited, do you think the need for this is likely to grow in future? 

In a nutshell, yes. There are already a few studies in this area showing an association between problem gambling and crypto trading. However, the limited research tends to show that those who only engage in crypto trading are much less likely to be problem gamblers than those who both gamble and engage in crypto trading. 

There also appears to be a higher association of problem gambling among those who bet on sports and also engage in crypto trading. What we don’t know is whether those who are already problem gamblers are gravitating towards crypto trading as another activity that they can gamble upon or whether crypto trading is a ‘gateway’ activity to trying other forms of ‘traditional’ gambling (my guess is that it is the former rather than the latter) because there have been no longitudinal studies and only cross-sectional studies. 


CJ: Do you believe the cryptocurrency industry should be doing more to promote safe investing and addressing the problem of addiction?

Any service provider who has a product that can be potentially problematic and addictive has a duty of care to its clientele. Trading service providers should have policies and tools in place so that individuals can trade responsibly, which helps minimize harm, and which ultimately protects traders from problematic trading. 

This is what happens in the gambling industry more generally and trading service providers need to provide the same levels of accountability and protection. Obviously, individuals have to have some responsibility for their actions, but that doesn’t mean gambling companies and trading companies should be absolved from their own responsibilities.


CJ: Conventional gambling is restricted in many territories to consumers 18 and over. Do you believe there should be a similar rule within cryptocurrency, in order to protect younger, more impressionable minds from potential addiction?  

Absolutely. Gambling is an activity for adults and research has consistently shown that minors are more at risk of problem gambling than adults. There shouldn’t be any difference for crypto trading and only adults should be allowed to legally engage in crypto trading. 

CJ: If I can push you for a yes or no answer, do you believe the world would be a happier place without gambling?  

No. Gambling is an enjoyable and harmless activity for most people. I like gambling myself so I’d be a hypocrite to say that others should not be able to do it given I do it myself. Banning or prohibiting gambling would only lead to illegal gambling which would actually lead to more problems ultimately.


CJ: Similar to the above question, would the world be a better place without cryptocurrency investing? 

Again, no, for the same reasons above (although I have never engaged in crypto trading myself).


CJ: What advice can you give people who are interested in trading crypto, who may be predisposed to gambling-related addictions? 

Like any consumptive activity with a potential for addictive behaviour, individuals need to have all the information about that activity so that they can make an informed choice about participation in the first place. Individuals need to know all the potential risks.

Crypto trading probably needs a wider skillset than (say) playing the lottery or playing bingo. Potential traders need to learn as much about the activity before spending any of their own money.

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