Over the course of the pandemic day trading has become extremely popular, especially among young people. Social media platforms such as Tik Tok, YouTube and Instagram are flooded with content providers that try to educate newbies about the investing world, and trading apps like E*Trade and Robinhood have made trading easier than ever before. While day trading can be a solid source of revenue that many make a successful career from, it can also end very badly. Whether one has picked up a day trading habit during the course of 2020’s lockdowns or whether they are a veteran day trader with in-depth knowledge and experience in the marketplace, day trading can develop into an addiction.
Some financial experts posture that day trading is more akin to gambling than it is to investing. While investing looks at putting money into the stock market with a long-term strategy, day trading looks at intraday profits that can be made from rapid price changes, both large and small. Subsequently, day trading can have euphoric highs coupled with devastating lows. It should therefore not be surprising that day trading can be addictive. While professional day trading takes incredible experience, focus, time, energy, research and discipline, there is a fine line between working as a day trader and feeding an addiction.
Why Is Day Trading Addictive?
Day trading is addictive for the same reason that gambling is addictive, and it has to do with the brain. When a day trader takes a profit, or even gets excited about a potential profit, the brain releases “feel good” neurochemicals such as dopamine and serotonin. In activating the brain’s reward system, over time the brain becomes reliant on this type of stimulation in order to induce pleasure. The brain becomes conditioned to want to trade financial instruments for excitement, euphoria, and wellbeing. Undoing the damage done to the brain can take weeks, months, or potentially years to correct.
There are also psychological and genetic factors that contribute to someone developing a trading addiction. For example, underlying mental health issues or a history of gambling in their family may make them more at risk for developing an addiction. Beyond the brain, genetics or co-occurring mental health disorders, there are many other factors that contribute to the progression of day trading from being recreational or a career activity into an addiction.
- Trading stocks is perceived as being a viable and legitimate source of income, and therefore may not be questioned as problematic by loved ones.
- With the rise of internet and online trading houses, day trading is easier and more accessible than ever before.
- Although trades aren’t rewarded 100% of the time, there isn’t a negative consequence 100% of the time either. This is something known as “partial reinforcement,” resulting in traders returning to the marketplace even after a string of losses.
- Most day traders believe they have done their research and have a bullet-proof strategy, resulting in what is known as the “illusion of control.”
- Day traders are more sensitive and emotionally attached to their losses than they are to their gains, even when they are of the same value. This results in “loss aversion” where they will endlessly invest time and money to win back losses, also known as chasing a loss.
- Day traders suffer from “availability heuristic.” This means that they overestimate the probability of making a profit on their trades either due to their own successful trading history or even due to seeing successful trades of others.
What Are 10 Signs of a Day Trading Addiction?
- If you find yourself taking an increased risk without much strategy, or if you need to make bigger wagers in order to receive satisfaction or excitement.
- If you become obsessed with researching and trading stocks, or a preoccupation with constantly watching the market.
- If you lose interest in social and leisure activities that you once found pleasurable at the expense of engaging in trading.
- If you find yourself trading for an adrenaline rush or to induce pleasure.
- If you have made unsuccessful attempts at reducing your time spent on trading and trading related activities, or if you have made unsuccessful attempts from taking a break or abstaining from trading related activities.
- If you trade compulsively or experience strong urges and cravings to engage in trading related activities.
- If you find yourself experiencing stress, anxiety, a low mood, irritability, or other unwanted and unhealthy mental health symptoms, especially when not trading.
- If you find yourself having to lie or hide your trading from your loved ones.
- If you have to steal, take loans, sell assets, or use money that should be spent on bills or necessities in order to make trades.
- If you continue to trade despite adverse consequences to your financial stability, relationships, or physical and mental wellbeing.
What Should I Do If I Have a Day Trading Addiction?
Depending on the individual and their relationship with day trading, it may be something that they can learn to develop a healthy and balanced relationship with, or in other cases it may be something that they need to cut out of their life completely. In either case, there are many lifestyle changes that will need to take place, and in some cases professional help may be required.
There are many practical things one can do to help curb a trading addiction such as deleting, blocking or removing devices, apps and websites that were being used to trade. One may also choose to have their funds monitored by a trusted loved one, or moved to a loved one’s bank account in the early stages of recovery. It will also be very important to find other outlets of pleasure such as by re-engaging in social or leisure activities that were pleasurable in your past or engaging in a new hobby. This will also help reduce feelings of boredom and loneliness that can often trigger a relapse. Be mindful to remove triggers such as blocking social media content related to trading and staying away from financial related media on television, radio and print. Also, find mechanisms of self-care such as by focusing on your nutrition, exercise, hygiene, sleep and relaxation through sources such as reading or meditating.
Due to the disruption of the brain’s reward system that day trading can cause, as well as the damage done to the brain circuits involved in impulse control in the prefrontal cortex as well as neurally imbedded associations and memories that are formed with trading, relapse rates for day trading are very high. Miniscule things that may not even enter the conscious mind can trigger urges and cravings to engage in trading. As such, professional help from an addiction specialist may be needed.
Addiction specialists such as addiction psychiatrists, addiction therapists, or other such mental health professionals who specialize in gambling disorders and other addictions can utilize a variety of psychotherapeutic modalities to help individuals reduce cravings, cope with triggers, and build a healthier lifestyle. For example, Motivational Interviewing may be utilized to help individuals better understand why their relationship with trading is problematic. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is often used to help challenge and change unhealthy or unhelpful thoughts, feelings and behaviors associated with trading. Medications such as anti-depressants or mood stabilizers can also be helpful to treat problems that often coincide with gambling such as ADHD, anxiety and depression.
Group therapy is also a common form of day trading addiction treatment. Group therapy allows for likeminded individuals to establish a sense of universality and recognize that they are not alone in their thoughts, feelings or behaviors. Group therapy can be especially helpful in relieving feelings of guilt and shame that may be associated with a trading addiction. Group members are able to give and receive support to one another in a meaningful way. Similarly, mutual help groups such as Gamblers Anonymous, SMART Recovery, and Refuge Recovery can be very beneficial.
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