Addiction Becomes Younger and Wealthier

As many families have unfortunately learned, drug and alcohol addiction can hit hard, and while scientific research has made great strides towards the understanding of addiction, there are still too many variables in the equation to fully treat this kind of condition.

Recent research published in the journal Development and Psychopathology has provided another glimpse into a cause that may lead to addiction, and this time it flies in the face of what has long been a cultural stereotype of drug abuse. As it turns out, teenagers from wealthy families are two to three times more likely to fall victim to drug addiction.drinking-party

Drug abuse has long been associated with low-income families, even to the point of some states passing legislation to drugtest applicants of social welfare programs provided by the government. But the new findings suggest that there may be some difficulty for rich teenagers to adjust to adult life.

Lead author Suniya Luthar, a psychology professor at Arizona State University, points out this more troubling trend, which is that the higher rate of drug use continues for the affluent into young adulthood.

Affluent families can contain stark differences when compared to low- and middle-income families, especially when it comes to key aspects of drug use such as accessibility and lack of punishment. Simply put, people with more money and wider connections have greater access to various drugs and alcohol. As it pertains to teenagers, they have the added access to alcohol and drugs, and additionally tend to have a lot more time alone and away from their parents.

Luthar points to these accessibility aspects as one of the most prominent challenges. “Many kids in these communities have plenty of disposable income with which they can get high-quality fake lD's, as well as alcohol and both prescription and recreational drugs."

If they do happen to get caught with illegal substances, punishment of teens caught abusing drugs could hurt their educational and career prospects, something white-collar parents fear for their children.

There also appear to be significant links between drug abuse and mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. This is generally a result of high expectations placed on young teens in wealthy households, but also suggests that there may be more self-medicating taking place in this higher socioeconomic environment. In fact, rich teenagers are twice as likely as the average US teen to use stimulant drugs like Adderall or Ritalin, which are usually used to treat symptoms of ADHD. They also have double the risk of using cocaine.

According to Luthar, the use of stimulants by wealthy high school teens makes a lot of sense in the context of this immense pressure to perform. She states, “As long as university admissions processes continue to be as they are - increasingly smaller number of admits per applications and requiring impossible resumes - these young people will continue to be frenetic in pursuing those coveted spots, and many will continue to self-medicate as a result.”

Addressing drug and alcohol addiction and abuse will likely be a monumental task for years to come, but each day scientists are coming out with new findings that present hope for the future of treatment.