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What Is Affluenza?

Affluenza is a condition that has been described as a negative response to hyperconsumption. People who have it are usually reported to suffer from emotional stress, feelings of alienation from the world around them and a lack of meaning in their lives. Moreover, it is found in people who define themselves by the material possessions they can buy. Since material possessions can never take the place of emotional fulfillment, people who focus on consumption are left feeling empty, incomplete and alone. Here is everything you need to know about affluenza.

What is Affluenza?

Affluenza may sound like a cold or similar disease. But, it is actually a term used to describe a more “metaphorical” illness. It mostly describes privileged kids who grow up emotionally and developmentally isolated from their parents. As a result, they feel an intense pressure to be successful. These individuals feel this weight at school, in their social life, and with extracurricular activities. And because they are under such extreme pressure, they are more likely to develop certain mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, and substance use disorder. For example, the children of the affluent are becoming increasingly troubled, reckless, and self-destructive. And if society doesn’t do something about their problems, they will become everyone’s problems. That’s what two psychologists, Suniya S. Luthar, and Barry Schwartz had to say about the subject of affluenza when Ethan Couch, a 16-year-old who killed four people while driving under the influence, was given only probation for the crime after his psychologist explained that Ethan suffered from affluenza.

While this ruling may seem ludicrous, it is true that affluence can put one at greater risk for developing the aforementioned illnesses which in this case led to a horrible tragedy. It may be somewhat hard to understand how growing up an affluent teen could possibly be a bad thing, but the truth is that these individuals are oftentimes miserable or unhappy with their privileged lifestyles. The fancy cars and the expensive outfits just don’t cut it.

The most popular case of affluenza

In June, 16-year-old Ethan Couch plowed his pickup truck into two vehicles parked on the side of a Texas highway, killing four people and injuring nine. The teenager, who had stolen beer from a local Walmart earlier in the day, had a blood alcohol level of 0.24. That is three times the legal limit for an adult. The case also brought renewed attention to the term "affluenza," a popular term for a non-medical condition marked by irresponsibility, reckless behavior, casual sex, substance abuse and the all-around obnoxious, antisocial conduct seen in some wealthy people and, especially, their kids. A psychologist brought in by Couch's defense attorneys claimed affluenza was the root cause of his criminal acts. The term affluenza was first coined by author Jessie H. O'Neill in her book "The Golden Ghetto: The Psychology of Affluence". The book describes the emptiness and desperation felt by many affluent people, who feel entitled to everything that money can buy and suffer profound psychological damage as a result.

So here’s the truth about “affluenza.” If it’s real, then the treatment of it needs to be real, too. Otherwise, Couch’s privileged upbringing could very well serve to absolve him indefinitely from all bad behaviors. Because if Ethan Couch seriously suffered from a mental or emotional inability to know right from wrong at 16, unless he’s gotten help, there’s no way to believe that he knows it now — or ever will.