Is affluenza real?
The term refers to the privileged upbringing of someone which causes them to be unable to discern right from wrong. In a recent case in which a wealthy 16-year-old boy from Texas drove drunk and killed four pedestrians, it was cited as a cause of his poor behavior.
The judge in the case sentenced the teenager to probation. The lack of any prison time outraged some and spurred debate on the use of affluenza as an affliction.
Columbia University Psychology Professor Suniya Luthar said it can’t be a diagnosis because affluenza doesn’t exist. It is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association.
“There is no such thing; it is a catch phrase that people have come to use to describe the risk associated with the lifestyle of the upper middle class,” she said.
The teen driver had THC, valium, muscle relaxants and three times the adult legal limit of alcohol in his system, according to authorities. He and his friends used his parents' Ford F-350 pickup June 15 to drive to a store when he struck the pedestrians. Friends warned him he was too drunk to drive, according to reports.
Luthar said she can see why attorneys would want to use the term as a reason for crime.
"Substance abuse and rule-breaking is higher among upper-middle class than among average families.
"I can see the attorney wanting to use it. I can see the parents wanting to use it — we all as parents want to do what is best for our children,” she said.
Luthar, who has researched affluenza, said there is a concern for the message being sent to kids.
"If you have enough money, you can basically out-smart the criminal justice system. It is a very dangerous message.”
Scripps Digital Writer Mandy Gambrell contributed to this report.