‘Affluenza’ Teen Sought For Violating Probation — Is Affluenza A Legitimate Diagnosis?

“Affluenza” teen Ethan Couch is being sought by police for breaking his probation. At this time, his whereabouts and those of his mother, with whom the teen lived, are unknown.

In June of 2013, at the tender age of 16 (the teen is now 19), Couch killed four people and critically injured two when his truck slammed into a broken down vehicle on the side of the road at a very high speed, reports the Washington Post. The teen’s blood alcohol level was more than three times the legal limit for adults. In addition, both Valium and marijuana were detected in his system. The alcohol he consumed was stolen from a nearby Walmart. And, obviously, the teen was under the legal drinking age.

There were four people working on the stranded vehicle, all killed by the teen’s reckless behavior. How could a simple flat tire lead to the tragic end of four young lives? The victims were Breanna Mitchell, who owned the car; youth pastor Brian Jennings, who happened to kindly stop and lend a hand; Hollie Boyles, and her daughter, Shelby, who responded to their friend’s call for help.

Astonishingly, the teen managed to walk away with the very lowest amount of punishment, even though prosecutors sought the maximum sentence, 20 years of jail time. According to CNN,the teen blamed his behavior on a condition called affluenza. The teen received a only a ten year probation, where drugs and alcohol were restricted.

Imagine the shock felt by the families of the car crash victims who sought justice for their loved ones. Eric Boyles, whose wife and daughter were killed by the teen’s drunken driving, feels that Couch did not receive a punishment anywhere near befitting of his crimes.

“There are absolutely no consequences for what occurred that day. The primary message has to absolutely be that money and privilege can’t buy justice in this country.”

What does affluenza mean? Affluenza simply points to the behavior of a child who comes from a wealthy, affluent family, where the parents have imposed little to no boundaries or consequences on their children for negative actions, and even oppose punishment from other authority figures, such as school officials.

Surely, affluenza cannot be classified as a real condition?

Oh, but it is, depending on who you talk to.

Professor of psychology at Arizona State University, Suniya Luthar, has studied affluenza in wealthy families.

“We’ve found the level of serious adjustment problems ranging from depression, anxiety, delinquency, substance abuse higher among kids of upper-middle-class families.”

In a report by USA Today directly after the teen was set free due to affluenza, psychologist Gary Buffone said that affluenza is not necessarily a diagnosis, but more a term used to describe “spoiled brats.” Typically, the term affluenza points to rich kids who make poor decisions, such as skipping classes or consuming alcohol, and should definitely “not be used to justify bad behavior.”

“Unfortunately, given the fact that this [affluenza defense] was successful, it’s more likely that more attorneys are going to pick it up and wave it as their banner.”

However, attorney Areva Martin disagrees that affluenza will become a common defense.

“I don’t think it’s going to have legs legally. I just don’t believe wholesale judges are going to start letting wealthy kids who murder people go off to expensive rehab facilities in lieu of jail time.”

Recently, a video showed up on the Internet showing a teen, allegedly Ethan Couch, playing beer pong. Though authorities were not interested in a poor quality video portraying a man who may or may not be Couch violating his probation, they are certainly standing up and taking notice now that Ethan and his mother have virtually disappeared.

The teen is being avidly sought by authorities for violating his probation. Will the teen, who got away with killing four people due to the diagnosis of affluenza, face a steeper penalty once he is brought back to court? What punishment do you think he should serve?

[Photo by LM Otero/Associated Press]