Luxury rehab centres now offer therapy for ‘crypto addiction’

Luxury rehab centres now offer therapy for 'crypto addiction'
Luxury rehab centres now offer therapy for ‘crypto addiction’

There was a time when Don was pouring up to $200,000 (£164,700) every week into cryptocurrency trades.

He slept fitfully and would be up in the wee hours to monitor prices and his portfolio balance. “I’d break into a sweat before going on long-haul flights, as I would not be able to access the internet,” he said.

Don works in a company that processes central bank digital currency (CBDC) transactions. He did not want to use his real name and wishes to remain anonymous because he fears his comments could spark a backlash from investors.

He says he went on a “downward spiral” in the middle of 2022 – and that’s when he decided to seek help.

The solution came in the form of a four-week stay at The Balance, a sprawling rehabilitation centre with dozens of staff on the Spanish island of Majorca.

Don lived in a private villa and was attended to by his own butler and chef. His treatment comprised therapy but also massages, yoga and bike rides, all for a hefty bill: upwards of $75,000.

Founded in Zurich, with properties in London and Majorca, The Balance describes itself as a “safe space enabling health and fulfilment”. The landing page has pictures of a beachfront villa, spa and glowing testimonials from past clients. The centre lists treatment programmes for anxiety, burnout, depression, post-traumatic stress disorders and eating disorders.

Don says it helped him “wean off crypto”.

The pandemic and a volatile crypto market have spurred a trading frenzy in digital currencies. And now, luxury rehab centres are cropping up around the world, promising to treat “crypto addiction”.

Most of the rehab centres the BBC has found appear to be of the luxe variety, and also offer treatment for other addictions: narcotics, alcohol and eating disorders. Three rehab centres and two addiction clinics the BBC contacted said they have received hundreds of related queries in the past two years.

But addiction experts are sceptical whether crypto trading warrants such an exorbitant intervention.

“The treatment for crypto addiction is similar to other addictions,” says Anna Lembke, a psychiatry professor at Stanford University and chief of the Stanford Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic.

“It’s a biopsychosocial disease so it requires a biopsychosocial intervention: medications in some cases, individual and group psychotherapy, changing habits and environment, (or) implementing healthier replacement activities.”

But, she adds, the cost is not always justified. Experts like her argue that it’s akin to gambling and should be treated as such.

“They are making money off desperate people,” says Lia Nower, director at the Centre for Gambling Studies in Rutgers School of Social Work. “Whether you’re ‘addicted’ to trading crypto, betting on sports, or playing the lottery, your symptoms and treatment will be largely the same.”

Like other addictions, treatment for crypto addiction should begin with abstinence and managing withdrawal symptoms – which could include anxiety, irritability and insomnia, Ms Lembke said. “No crypto trading or viewing for at least four weeks, which gives the brain a chance to reset reward pathways. The [withdrawal] symptoms are usually time-limited and can be managed with emotional support and reassurance that they will eventually go away.”

In the long run, treatment would also include healthier options for financial investment, she added.