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Is the “Affluenza” Teen’s Psychological Condition Even Real?

Too rich to distinguish right from wrong..?

| 2 min read

Too rich to distinguish right from wrong..?

The “Affluenza” teen, Ethan Couch, has taken the news by storm in the recent weeks over his scheme to flee to Mexico after breaking the terms of his probation. In a quick recap, Couch killed four people in a drunk driving accident a couple of years ago, but his lawyer got him sentenced to a mere 10 years of drug-and-alcohol-free probation as punishment for intoxication manslaughter.

How? A psychologist was called to the stand and used the “affluenza” defense, which combines affluence and influenza to describe a condition in which an individual supposedly can’t tell right from wrong due to being so rich.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the affluenza defense was first used back in 1954, when a member of one of San Francisco’s prominent founding families, Fred Whitman, used the term to describe the psychological effects of wealth — rich people supposedly suffer from feelings of guilt, lack of motivation, extreme materialism, and isolation.

But is affluenza even a real psychiatric condition?

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“It’s a cute idea in the public’s imagination, but there’s no diagnostic criteria that says people have affluenza,” Thomas Plante, a professor of psychology at Santa Clara University, told Discovery.

In fact, affluenza is not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association, and there’s barely any research literature on it, according to TIME. Plus, of the existing limited research on affluenza, one of the studies even refers to it as a “metaphorical illness.”

"As a doctor I can assure you that, no, Affluenza is not a real affliction," Michelle London, a Johns Hopkins-trained neuropsychologist and President of the Chicago NeuroRehabilitation Center, wrote in the Daily Beast.

So as far as science and psychology are concerned, being rich isn’t enough to constitute a mental illness that would hinder an individual from being able to tell right from wrong.

In Couch’s case, it seems that some bogus psychology worked in his favor and essentially allowed his wealth to become a get-out-of-jail free card — an utter failure of the justice system.

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