Affluenza: A New Mental Illness?

A short editorial piece by James Bradshaw in the current issue (Jan/Feb) of the National Psychologist discusses the trial of a 16-year-old male who killed four people and severely injured two others while driving under the influence of Valium (diazepam) and alcohol.  He had stolen the alcohol from a store earlier, and his blood alcohol level was three times the legal adult limit.  He was driving 70 mph in a 40 mph zone at the time of the incident.

Prosecutors had asked for 20 years imprisonment (the maximum sentence), but instead the sentence was 10 years’ probation.

What’s interesting is the defense:

“Great furor stemmed from a defense psychologist’s describing the youth as a victim of affluenza – being cushioned by the money of wealthy parents to the point he never understood the consequences of his actions.

G. Dick Miller, PhD, a private practice clinical psychologist in Bedford, Texas, has since said he regrets using the term because of the uproar it created.”

It’s tempting to say:  But there’s no such diagnosis in DSM-5!  Think again.

On page 708, you’ll find:

“Other Specified Mental Disorder 300.9

This category applies to presentations in which symptoms characteristic of a mental disorder that cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning predominate but do not meet the full criteria for any specific mental disorder.  The other specified mental disorder category is used in situations in which the clinician chooses to communicate the specific reason that the presentation does not meet the criteria for any specific mental disorder.  This is done by recording ‘other specified mental disorder’ followed by the specific reason.”

There it is:  “make up your own diagnosis.”  The only requirement being that the problem causes “…clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning…” [emphases added]

And as everyone knows, having parents throw buckets of money at one during one’s formative years stunts social development, and saps occupational motivation.

Voila!  It’s like pulling rabbits from hats.

  • Francesca Allan

    Part of psychiatry’s encouragement to abdicate responsibility. Nobody is just *bad* anymore; they have “antisocial personality disorder.” The Genovese witnesses weren’t guilty of depraved indifference; they were exhibiting the “bystander effect.”

    And it’s not just medicine. There is a local news story about a couple who declared bankruptcy and then bought a new car and are now whining about the interest expenses. Big bad banks! How about taking some responsibility for your financial mess and oh, I don’t know, using public transit.

  • Phil_Hickey


    Psychiatry definitely encourages an attitude of helplessness and dependency. It’s good for business,but bad for people.

    Best wishes.

  • Sweet63

    Interesting that it was a psychologist who came up with this “defense.”

  • Phil_Hickey


    Yes. It’s a source of sadness to me personally, because psychology training should alert people to these kinds of spurious concepts. Have you seen Maria Bradshaw’s article on Mad in America? I’m writing a post on it, and should have it up in a day or so. I think Maria is correct.

  • Adam Martin

    I believed that my poor behavior was the result of my bipolar disorder. Psychologists and psychiatrists who we paid thousands all agreed, and said the solution was drugs. The real problem was my refusal to learn from my mistakes and accept responsibility for my actions.

    I wonder if that ties in with my political beliefs becoming more to the left the deeper I fell into denial about my situation. I don’t feel as sympathetic toward people who live beyond their means and then complain about poverty.

  • Francesca Allan

    I admire your insight, Adam. A lot of my recovery was realizing my behaviour was unacceptable and deciding to change. Interesting what you say about political beliefs so I’ll give that some thought. I do know that as I have recovered, I have become more left in that I’m starting to realize that some people are becoming “ill” in response to a completely untenable social structure.

  • JD

    Technically he was a juvenile. Clearly he needed to serve time, however….20 years was not a sentence any judge would have handed for a minor who is not yet an adult.