Can Trading Futures, Forex Or Stocks Be Addictive?
Real addictions are a very grave matter and while trading doesn’t involve the consumption of any substances, there are those that believe that trading is truly addictive. The tremendous emotional rushes that most traders experience both prior to placing a trade and while in the middle of a big winner or big loser are an acknowledged part of trading, but are traders truly becoming addicted to trading? Is there a need for help for traders, or is the situation one where the high percentage of traders that lose money is simply due to them still being in the learning curve and suffering the losses as a normal part of “paying your dues”? In this article we are going to investigate the matter and determine if there is sufficient evidence to support the hypothesis that trading is indeed addictive. So what constitutes an actual addiction? There are two categories of addictions, physical dependence and psychological addiction. There is a considerable amount of information on both and certainly beyond the scope of this article, but a brief summary follows From Wikipedia, the definition of “addiction” includes: “Psychological addiction, as opposed to physiological addiction, is a person's need to use a drug or engage in a behavior despite the harm caused [emphasis added] - out of desire for the effects it produces, rather than to relieve withdrawal symptoms. …. it becomes associated with the release of pleasure-inducing endorphins, and a cycle is started that is similar to physiological addiction.
This cycle is often very difficult to break.” Also, “Psychological addiction does not have to be limited only to substances; even various activities and behavioral patterns [emphasis added] may be considered addictions if they are harmful….” From Merriam-Webster Online, the definition of “addicted”: “1 : to devote or surrender (oneself) to something habitually or obsessively” So an addiction could be described as a person feeling the “need” to repeatedly engage in a particular behavior to satisfy a desire for the emotional effects that is has, the feelings that it produces. It is a desire that they have rationalized into a need, to which they have surrendered control, and they have allowed the behavior to develop into a habit. This is physiologically compounded by the endorphins released into the system that provide a physical feeling effect as well.
Let’s look at some of the necessary practices (behaviors) of trading to achieve consistent profits and some of the behaviors exhibited by many traders and see if they fit the above. One recognized critical practice for profitable trading is good risk management. At the heart if this is making sure that the risks you take are measured and calculated risks. You want to keep your losses small when they occur and avoid them all together when possible (such as NOT getting into bad trades). Key tools commonly used for controlling potential losses include risk / reward calculations and stop loss orders. Risk/reward calculations are necessary on every trade so that you know whether each trade is a sound business decision. Stops are used so that then a good trade is placed but the market doesn’t do what you’d expected. With the leverage in trading that can work for or against you, risk management is essential. General money management is another critical practice to make sure that your trading business will still have the doors open months and years from now. It includes risk management but the focus is on a larger scale and a broader scope, such as looking at what percentage of your available capital you are placing on any given trade, regardless of the details of the specific trade.
These practices may appeal to the intellect, but how they feel is where traders get into trouble. There are several common mistakes repeatedly made by traders that bring large losses, missed profits, and ruin for many. These mistakes run in direct conflict with the known and established good practices for consistent and profitable trading, yet are made over and over again by the same traders. Since they are repeated, it would be reasonable to say that they have become habits. Let’s examine these habits from the perspective of the emotional response for the individual. Trading without a plan, also known as entering a trade without an exit strategy for the trade. The trader doing this is usually not following a technical system and is going more on their hunches than sound calculations. This right here is an indicator that they are allowing their feelings to dictate their actions more so than their reasoning and rationale. If the market moves in their favor, it reinforces the decision to follow their intuition and feeds the ego in being right. Another very elemental factor is suspense.
If one has the trade planned out and there are no surprises, it takes all the suspense out of it. Why do people love a good mystery novel or movie? They love sitting on the edge of their seats and reveling in the suspense of it all. When you know the end of the story it takes all the fun out of it and who wants that? Refusal to use stops. The comment often heard by brokers is “No, I don’t want to get stopped out. I’ll just watch it.” This is true for initial stops and quite commonly for trailing stops after the market has moved in one’s favor. The trader is putting a lot of energy in to their feelings hope and anticipation. The ego is also being fed here, “knowing” that the market will do as they desire. As the move goes their way, they are experiencing a tremendous thrill, plus the validation they desire about them being a better trader than they truly are. When the market moves against them, the opposite feelings are amplified and only create a greater need to be validated.
This also again, involves a lot of suspense and anticipation. Over-trading regarding frequency, A. trading too often. Usually in this circumstance the trader is feeling the need to satisfy their perception of lack. They may have just experienced a string of losers or a very large loss and now feel that they have to recoup their losses and absolve themselves for the previous errors. They are feeling bad about themselves and rather than do what they know is right, they simply want to have the bad feelings go away. Placing trades that are too large for the account.
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