Are Wealthy Children More Susceptible to Drug Addiction? – The Psychological Cost of Affluence

Money can’t buy happiness, and it certainly can’t ward off mental health or addiction related issues.  Despite the privileged life lived by children of wealth, they also face many obstacles and difficulties.  Although they are often set-up for success with a platinum spoon in hand, they are also set-up to face a variety of mental health and addiction related challenges.  Believe it or not, wealthy children are at higher risk of drug and alcohol addiction than their less-affluent peers.


Research has found that wealthy children are more susceptible to a variety of mental health issues including depression, anxiety, eating disorders and substance abuse.  Studies reflect that wealthy children experience depressive symptoms at rates three-times as high as non-affluent children.  Rates of anxiety and substance use were also higher.  Studies have found that children of affluence are two to three times as likely as non-affluent children to engage in substance use and abuse.  There are many studies that reflect this data.


Why Are Children of Affluence More Susceptible to Developing an Addiction?


High Expectations

Children of affluence often grow in families of extreme success and high achievement.  Not only do children witness success from their parents, grandparents and other family members, but also from their peers around them.  As such, children from wealthy families often feel an immense amount of pressure to overachieve.  Even in cases where expectations have not been placed on them, they often feel that if they don’t achieve success academically or in extracurricular endeavors, they will be a failure and perhaps even lose acceptance from their parents.  Such pressures can cause anxiety, sadness, low self-esteem, and other such issues highly correlated with substance abuse.


Access to Funds

Children raised in wealthy families have access to disposable money, sometimes endlessly.  They grow up living privileged lives always getting what they want.  Money may not buy happiness, but it can certainly buy a good time.  Wealthy children can buy expensive drugs, large quantities of alcohol, and throw parties with their friends.  Unlike lower income children who do not have disposable money, wealthy children can spend it at their discretion without worry.  More money, more problems (and more alcohol and drugs).


Not Deserving of Issues

Affluent children may have this notion that they are not deserving of developing mental health issues such as anxiety or depression because they have everything of material at their disposal.  Unfortunately, we know that mental health and addiction related issues are problems that money can’t solve, but children may not view it like this.  This type of view can exacerbate their sense of low self-esteem, low self-worth, poor self-image, and overall mental health issues and substance abuse.


Absent Parents

Children of wealth may grow up with prominent parents who work high level executive jobs and live busy lives, and often travel for business and pleasure.  As such, children in wealthy families may be raised by nannies and have less interaction with their parents than children may otherwise.  Absence of parents commonly causes higher levels of anxiety, depression and other mental health effects on children.  Furthermore, lack of parental supervision creates an environment where children may be more prone and able to engage in substance use and abuse.


Peer Norms

Substance use is highly regarded by children of affluence, whereas it may not appear as glamorous among children who come from lower income families and communities.  Providing drugs and alcohol at parties creates social acceptance, as does being able to consume large amounts of drugs and alcohol or being known as someone who commonly has substances in their possession.  Peer groups among wealthy children actively endorse substance use and it creates popularity among their circle.


Lack of Friendships

Days are heavily scheduled with academic and extracurricular activities, leaving little room for leisure time and casual social engagement.  These extracurricular activities often cause more pressure on children to perform (to win) and also invites criticism (from coaches or teammates for example).  Children of wealth are often also competitive, always feeling a need to win or achieve a position within their school, subsequently inviting competition amongst their peers and making it more challenging to build friendships.  One’s wins are another’s losses.  Furthermore, there may be increased trust issues among children of affluence, making it more challenging to build meaningful friendships (something discussed below).  Lack of social intimacy and friendships and subsequent emotional isolation is highly correlated with mental health issues such as depression and substance abuse.


Why Substance Abuse May Be Exacerbated Among Children of Wealth?


Bottom is Always Being Raised

Money can prevent children from facing consequences and hitting bottom.  Whereas most children may face immediate consequences for their substance use, wealthy children may be able to buy their way out or use their parent’s pull in their community.  Wealthy children are far less likely to face severe academic or legal consequences than otherwise might cause a child to change their behavior.


Easier to Cover it Up

Children of affluence may be able to easier cover-up their addiction.  When wealthy children may be able to appear “higher functioning” they may be able to easier disguise their substance use.  Furthermore, if they are doing well academically or in extracurricular activities their parents may not view their substance use as an issue or may feel they are just “going through a phase” and will “grow out of it.”


They Don’t Fit the Mold

The stereotype of addiction does not look like a child of affluence.  The stigmatic and stereotypical nature of addiction or alcoholism is a person of poverty.  As such, wealthy children may fall under the radar when it comes to adults noticing their substance use, resulting in fewer interventions being made amongst this population.


What Barriers to Treatment do Wealthy Children Face?


Privacy Concerns

Wealthy children and their families may be known in their communities or more widely around the world. Parents of prominent families may be fearful of privacy concerns when they send their child to a drug and alcohol rehab.  Simply the exposure of the child’s last name can place the parent’s in a compromising position.  Due to such fears, parents may be resistant to getting their child the help they need.



Children of affluence may be fearful of how they are perceived.  People commonly view wealthy children as spoiled, and therefore wealthy children may have this notion that people will not be able to empathize with them or be compassionate towards them.  They may have false preconceived notions that nobody will understand them and that there is no help available for them.


Lack of Trust

Affluent children may grow up in a family of secrecy and may have difficulty being open and vulnerable in a therapeutic setting.  Wealthy individuals may struggle to build healthy stable relationships that are built on trust.  They may lack trust of outsiders and be suspicious of people’s motives.  It can sometimes be challenging to build a healthy therapeutic relationship with individuals who have these types of beliefs instilled in them.


What to Do If My Child Has an Addiction?


It is incredibly important that caregivers of affluent children are mindful that addiction and mental health issues do not discriminate, and that they may be just as or even more prone to suffer from such issues.  Furthermore, do not come to the conclusion that this is just a phase, as addiction is progressive in nature and most individuals who develop severe addictions start using drugs and alcohol at a young age.


Have vulnerable conversations with your child, listen to them, be aware of symptoms, and trust your intuition. If you think there may be an issue, talk to them about it, and seek out professional help if needed.  If you are a high-net-worth or ultra-high-net-worth individual or a notable figure it would be prudent to send your child to an addiction specialist who specializes in caring for such individuals.  As with any population, it is important that the addiction professional you choose be culturally competent and have an intimate understanding of the unique challenges faced by children and families of affluence.


If you are fearful of privacy and confidentiality concerns, know that there are highly private addiction specialists and addiction clinics that cater to this population.  When working with such addiction professionals only one patient may be seen at a time using undisclosed office locations if need be in order to ensure the highest levels of confidentiality, or home visits can be offered.  Do not allow trust or privacy concerns to deter you from receiving help, whether it be for yourself, your child, or another family member.


For guidance on the various types of addiction help available for you or your loved one, please read “My Loved One Has an Addiction, What Do I Do? – A Guide to Help You Navigate Recovery."


Other articles on similar subjects which may be of value include:


Does Affluence Make It Harder to Recovery?


Challenges Executives Face who Suffer from Mental Health or Substance Abuse Issues


The Challenges of Being a High-Functioning Alcoholic


For more information on NYC addiction treatment and to find the best addiction counselor, or for general therapy and mental health, or to inquire about Family Addiction Specialist’s private concierge sober coach Manhattan, recovery coach Manhattan, sober companion Manhattan, Manhattan addiction therapy services and/or our Manhattan teletherapy services (online therapy/virtual therapy), as well as our Manhattan hypnosis services in New York City please contact our undisclosed therapy office location in the Upper East Side of NYC today at (929) 220-2912.

Lin Sternlicht & Aaron Sternlicht

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