Day trading addiction: warning signs & when to seek help

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Since the explosion of online trading apps, anyone with a smartphone and money can become a day trader. While there is nothing inherently wrong with using trading apps or day trading in general, combining both can become dangerous. 

For some people, day trading looks like gambling, full of risk-taking exhilaration and the potential for huge rewards. And this can lead to compulsive trading and even addiction for a small percentage of traders. 

If day trading is becoming a problem for you, here are the telltale signs of addiction and what to do if you have an issue.

Disclaimer: This is an introductory guide to day trading addiction and its possible effects. If you or someone you know may be showing signs of addiction, seek professional help.

Trading exposes you to the risk of losing more than your initial investment and incurring financial liability. Trading is suitable only for well-informed, sophisticated clients able to understand how the products being traded work and having the financial ability to bear the aforementioned risk.

Transactions involving foreign exchange instruments (FOREX) and contracts for difference (CFD) are highly speculative and extremely complex. As such, they are subject to a high level of risk due to leverage. Please keep in mind that CDF trading is banned in the US.

Information published on the website is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as offering investment advice or as an enticement to trade financial instruments.

What is day trading addiction?

A person with day trading addiction becomes compulsively and excessively engaged in day trading activities in financial markets. This behavior can interfere with the person’s livelihood, relationships, and financial and physical well-being. 

Day trading addiction is easily understood when broken into two parts: 

  • Day trading: buying and selling stock, securities, currencies, or other financial instruments on a daily basis. 
  • Addiction: the compulsive, uncontrollable urge to do, use, or consume something.

Most experts consider it an impulse control disorder. In other words, a person who trades compulsively, even in the face of serious financial and personal consequences, is probably addicted to day trading. 

Not everyone who plays the market excessively is addicted. Someone preoccupied with their trading account and who sometimes neglects their personal and professional obligations might have a problem with day trading, but that does not mean they are addicted. 

Why is day trading addictive?

Addiction science is always evolving. But experts believe that some people are genetically prone to addictive tendencies. There is evidence that most addicts share certain genetic markers and differences in brain chemistry that make them susceptible to addiction. This includes alcoholics, drug addicts, compulsive gamblers, sex addicts, and obsessive day traders.

Any activity that triggers the brain’s pleasure centers could become addictive for certain people because of their genetics and brain chemistry. And others might engage in high-frequency day trading and never develop a problem. 

Most psychologists believe that addiction to day trading is usually associated with other behavioral or emotional problems such as substance abuse, ADHD, anxiety, or other mood or personality disorders.

The science of addiction

Like all compulsive habits, addiction to day trading begins in the nucleus accumbens, the reward center of the brain. When you do something pleasant, such as eat a delicious meal, have sex, or make a worthwhile trade, the nucleus accumbens releases dopamine to boost the sensation of pleasure. 

Some people are more sensitive than others to the dopamine reward cycle. What begins as harmless pleasure quickly becomes an obsessive compulsion. The continuous search for this surge of dopamine can drive a day trader to empty their bank accounts, go into debt, and damage relationships to keep playing the market. 

9 signs you may be a day trading addict

The warning signs of day trading addiction vary from person to person. Some people might exhibit almost every behavior on this list, while for others only a few. If you find that two or more of the below symptoms apply to you, you may have a day trading problem. 

1. Stock market obsession

Everyone engaged in the stock market spends time tracking positions and planning trades. But if using your trading app or executing trades takes over other aspects of life, you may have a problem. 

2. Extending your trading day

Daily trading is already a significant commitment — particularly on top of a regular job. But some trading addicts need to feed their habit twenty-four-seven. This could be through after-hours trading or options like the Forex market, which is open 24 hours a day. 

If you’re eagerly finding ways to trade through the night or before the market opens, this may be cause for concern. 

3. Increasing risks

Just like gamblers who place “double down” after a series of losses, day-trading addicts trade recklessly in search of a big win. This phenomenon is comparable to drug addicts who need higher doses or more powerful drugs to feel the same effect. 

If you need bigger action just to feel that same dopamine hit described above, you may have an issue. 

4. Inability to restrict or stop trading

The inability to stop trading even when you want to is a sure sign that you have lost control of your day trading practice. 

Every trader should have a clear trading thesis — a reason and rhythm for trading. If you can’t help but deviate from this just to feed an urge or desire, consider seeking help. 

5. Hiding your activities & losses

People with a day trading problem often become hostile when their loved ones confront them about it. They lie and go to great lengths to conceal their activity and the amount of their losses. 

6. Lack of interest in other passions

An addiction to day trading takes control of your life. Instead of playing sports, engaging in a hobby, or spending time with family and friends, an addicted person prefers to be alone to focus on their trading app.

7. Taking extreme measures to continue trading

Healthy traders strictly limit the amount of money they make available for trading and use risk mitigation strategies to ensure they do not lose more than they can afford. To fuel their habits, day trading addicts sell their family jewelry, mortgage their homes or borrow using their credit cards. Even in the face of financial ruin, they are incapable of resisting the urge to trade. 

8. Negative impact on relationships

People who are addicted to trading are incapable of focusing on their professional responsibilities, which may put their jobs at risk. Their obsessive behavior and the resulting financial consequences can irreparably damage their personal relationships. 

9. Depression, anxiety, & desperation over losses

As the addiction to day trading progresses and personal and financial losses pile up, people often feel that there is no escaping their current situation. They feel desperate, powerless, and worthless. They hit rock bottom. Many addicts need to hit rock bottom before they seek help.

If you feel severely depressed, anxious, or have suicidal thoughts for any reason, seek professional help immediately. 

Is day trading like gambling or investing?

Day trading is neither gambling nor investing, although it has similarities to both. The main difference between day trading and investing is the period during which your money is at risk. 

Investors focus on a much longer period, usually months or years. They prioritize stock fundamentals and often spend a considerable amount of time researching and comparing stocks. Investors only make a few trades per year

Day traders often make dozens of trades in a single day. They try to profit from price movements over the course of minutes or hours. They rely on strategies such as technical trading to uncover favorable trades and use stop-loss orders and other tools to minimize risk. 

Gamblers rely on luck. They risk money on seemingly random events in the hope of a big win. There is neither research nor strategy. They bet over and over again, attempting to eventually beat the odds so as to compensate for their losses. 

Some day traders are gamblers in disguise. Someone who does not understand the market or have a strategy to identify profitable trades is essentially gambling with their money. This type of trading most often leads to addiction.

Online trading applications & addiction

Recently, psychologists have explored the relationship between next-generation trading apps and trading addiction. More specifically, gamification of trading may be contributing to the increase in day trading addiction.

Some trading applications have features typically found in video games and gaming programs. For example, one trading app floods the screen with green confetti every time you make a trade. Another uses game-like animations and sounds to encourage traders to use the app. 

A recent study found that people who use “fun” trading apps make riskier trades than those who use more conventional trading platforms. They also risk larger amounts. These apps blur the line between day trading and gambling. 

Gamification of trading has become such a problem that even the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has taken note. In October 2021, the SEC released a 45-page report highlighting the negative consequences of gamification and the need to protect vulnerable investors. The SEC is expected to publish new rules and regulatory guidance on gamification in the near future. 

While there may not yet be a direct link between gamified trading apps and addiction to day trading, the danger is there. This is especially true for novice investors and people with a limited understanding of the market. 

How to get help for an addiction to day trading

Addiction to day trading is a relatively new phenomenon. There are no specific diagnostic criteria to identify this disorder, and few therapists specialize in its treatment. Therefore, it can be difficult to find help.

A certified gambling advisor can be a good place to start. There are many parallels between a gambling addiction and day trading addiction. An association such as Gamblers Anonymous can also provide support. If none of these options are available in your area, an addiction therapist may be able to help.

Whichever course of action you choose, it is important to seek help if you recognize any of the warning signs of addiction to day trading. There’s a fine line between a passionate hobby and a problem, and the sooner you take steps to protect yourself and your finances, the better.

Maxime Parra

Maxime holds two master’s degrees from the SKEMA Business School and FFBC: a Master of Management and a Master of International Financial Analysis. As founder and editor-in-chief of, he writes daily about financial trading.

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