The risks to young adults in succumbing to drug use are rampant across the country. Depending on the area or state, certain substances will trend more than others. And for a person under 21 years of age, the operative word in this is trend. Most of the decisions made and focal points of importance in a young adult, generally speaking, dance around what’s trending. But another truth about a person’s drug of choice has everything to do with ease of access, personal preference in the feeling it brings and cost. In this instance, I will refer to a story in Scottsdale but the same elements are portrayed and repeated in other cities in the U.S., because for people of privilege, affluence enables drug addiction and often hinders recovery.

In Addiction, Privilege Is a Twisted Curse

The very concept of having the means to acquire whatever you want sounds fantastic. But when you’re 18 to 21 years of age, it comes with a hefty price. There is intrinsic power is saying the word “No’. If parents of privilege are too busy to exercise discipline in the household, too busy to care or too busy focusing on their personal wants, boundaries in life aren’t a normal course of decision-making. It’s like the pot calling the kettle black.

There is nothing wrong with having money, inherited or obtained through years of blood, sweat and tears building a career. But often there are sacrifices made to grow finances and nurture a business, sometimes at the expense of children. And these children become adults, likely to emulate the same

behaviors. Do they have the same level of personal drive and confidence? That’s a hard nut to crack. Here’s why.

Self-Worth and Affluence Don’t Go Hand in Hand

Research on drug and alcohol abuse in teenagers and young adults is ongoing. But in a recent study, findings show steep inclines into rates of addiction in upper-middle class and upper class adults ages 18 – 27, far exceeding the general population in the same age group.

The study, based on the Northeast part of the United States, used participants who were seniors in high school and broke them up into two distinct groups. One group was monitored for the first four years of college; while the other group was tracked for a 10-year period, when many of the participants had finished graduate degrees or were well into establishing career.

The case study results were disheartening:

  • Drug and alcohol abuse were much higher in the kids of affluence
  • Stimulant drug use was double the national average (Adderall, cocaine)
  • By 22, young men of affluence exhibited 2x the rate of drug and alcohol addiction
  • By 26, young women of affluence showed 3x the rate of lifetime substance addictions

Part of the drug culture in those of affluence may have something to do with how the behavior is perceived.

Parents Affect Outcomes of Children with Addictive Behaviors

It’s hard to instill “Do as I say not as I do” to a teenager whose parents make socializing and partying a regular part of their weekly schedule. Influencers within the affluent will use entertaining as a mechanism to create new relationships and forge new business, which keeps the wheels of prosperity turning. However, this becomes normalcy to the children of these adults. And what is the most effective way to teach our kids? They mirror our behavior.

Even for mothers and fathers who live that life and are able to maintain moderation in the consumption of alcohol, for example, young adults haven’t learned the art of discretion and sound judgment. With a full bar at home, little supervision and the credit cards to buy fake IDs and booze, out of control is easy to come by.

Emotional Well-being Is Priority

Adolescents, teenagers and young adults are fragile enough. Feelings of insecurity are common. But add on thoughts of diminished self-worth or not having the ability to ever measure up and this is a typical portrayal of a day in the life of a young person of privilege. There could be a long-standing familial history of accomplishments from generational wealth. Or perhaps there is a parent who is in the public or professional limelight due to heightened levels of achievement. Either way, an adult child of these parents will feel an overwhelming sense of pressure. Sometimes it comes from mothers and fathers sharing their expectations. Other times, it could be an unspoken conversation that looms heavy in the subconscious. It can be too much to live with and can also serve as a constant reminder of failure.

A Case in Point

Trevor grew up in Scottsdale. He experienced much of what other teenagers faced: gaming addiction, low self-esteem and the need to feel accepted by his peers. He was also bullied. What makes him different is that he came from affluence. Not the kind where chauffeurs drove him to school or anything but nonetheless privilege by many standards. I knew Trevor. I was part of his family that I referred to as family, having known his parents for decades.

After witnessing the sudden injury and subsequent coma that happened to his father while on a boating trip at the age of 14, trauma took its toll on Trevor. His mother, a highly successful officer at a bank (where she met Trevor’s father) has always made her work a priority. Even after the tragic event of her husband, she focused on work to maintain the family lifestyle and pay for the medical expenses. No one was effectively dealing with the emotional loss.

Over time, Trevor became more troubled. I saw him at a family function recently, which he almost missed. Because he was in jail the night before. It was the third time in just six months for marijuana-related offenses. He had just turned 18 years old. His mother was paying his way to live in a condo in Scottsdale. To eat. To party. To stay privileged, purposeless and exist without consequence. He knows his luck just ran out. He is going to start treatment.

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