Why Do Wealthy Children Develop Substance Addiction?

Recovery experts have long noticed the impact of affluence on teen addiction behaviors. Many children from wealthy family backgrounds have developed the habit of using substances – but why? It seems a bit counterintuitive that children who grow up in affluent environments are more susceptible to addictive habits and mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. However, a close-up look reveals that a privileged life does not make one immune to these health concerns.

Why Are Children of Affluence Susceptible?

Usually, affluent families in the United States are characterized by achievement and success. Children grow up seeing their parents and other family members having wealth and status. The bar is set higher, and they feel the pressure to live up to that upper-class culture of achievement. Even when parents do not express such expectations, there are enough role models pointing them to that way of life. Any signs of mediocre ability or failure seem a blow to their self-esteem.

Children who grow up in affluence normally are not financially strained to get the things they want. They do not need to worry about spending money on purchasing things that make them happy. Everything in life becomes a consumeristic game. The access to entertainment methods is low. Many young people seek new experiences and consider expensive drugs and alcohol a kind of entertainment. Some enjoy throwing parties for friends to come and join the fun of trying out drugs and alcohol.

In affluent families, parents are usually absent in monitoring their children’s whereabouts. They are busy people managing busy positions and traveling to business occasions. Less interaction with their parents may also create a sense of abandonment, anxiety, and other mental health problems. The poverty of parental attention sets in contrast with the wealth of other means of comfort, and children learn how to compensate with the latter for the former. They experience more emotional isolation.

Is There Peer Pressure in the Social Life of Affluent Children?

The kind of peer pressure on children from affluent families is largely a self-imposed one. They assume that they need to be competitive and achieve in school. The zero-sum mentality is prevalent because they have bought into the Jungle Rule more than other children. Some tend to value less about building meaningful friendships. To compensate for the lack of friendships, children with affluence like to provide large parties to create more social acceptance. These occasions often become accessible venues for young people to experiment with drugs and alcohol.

The lack of parental presence makes detecting early signs of substance use and addiction difficult. Even when parents detect these signs, very few of them can afford the time and energy required by treatment experts. They tend to outsource that parental responsibility to a hired worker or another family member, and this kind of delegation is not often helpful for the children to feel that their parents actually care.

What Are Some Common Barriers to Treatment These Children Face?

Many affluent families care about their reputation and status. There is more stigma attached to their children’s addiction. So parental denialism is one common barrier. Related to this is the absence of trust between children and parents. The revelation of youth addiction might worsen the situation when parents view it as a betrayal of expectations. Parents of wealth may also lack the trust of outsiders, so it is difficult for them to seek professional help unless their child has hit rock bottom.

When it comes to breaking down these barriers to treatment, parents need to make some personal breakthroughs. Maybe it is a time to reflect on their life and reset priorities, or they should learn how to build trust first with their children by having vulnerable conversations. It is never a wise plan to delay treatment because addiction can become a hardwired brain disease with mental health consequences. Young people are in a developmental stage when it comes to their brain development, so an early exposure to addictive habits can have negative life consequences.

What Should Parents Do?

Parents should not kick the ball to other people. This is the moment for them to step in. Maybe working with a professional interventionist can help you dispel some fears about privacy and reputation around your children’s addiction treatment. There are interventionists who have high levels of privacy built into their practices. Even when working with an interventionist, it is a mandate for parents to be directly involved, instead of delegating the task to others.

In the recovery community, there are addiction specialists who have experience caring for young people coming from affluent families. They are aware of the common stressors in such an environment. This knowledge not only makes them more culturally competent, but can also help them design a customized relapse prevention plan. 

Do you have a teen or adolescent child who shows signs of addiction to drugs and alcohol? Upon considering getting addiction treatment, are you concerned about privacy issues? If you are concerned about the many implications this has on your family, remember that there are high privacy treatment programs available to you and your child. There are many questions around this issue and maybe you need help from a professional interventionist. It is time for you as a parent to step up to the task. The first thing you can do is to be informed and educated. You need professional interventionists who provide recovery coaching for the child, as well as parent coaching. You can find competent interventionists at South Florida Intervention. We have helped many teens and adolescents from affluent families achieve and maintain sobriety while having their privacy protected. We are skilled at non-confrontational recovery coaching with young people. Call us today at (202) 390-2273.