What Is Affluenza?

Affluenza Explained in Less Than 5 Minutes

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Affluenza is a portmanteau of “affluence” and “influenza” used to describe a social condition in which individuals pursue material success at great personal and financial cost. While the term addresses the social and psychological effects of wealth, affluenza is not a medical or psychological diagnosis.

Definition and Example of Affluenza

Affluenza is a portmanteau combining the words “affluence” and “influenza.” It’s used to describe the unhealthy effects of wealth on both individuals and society, as well as a condition in which people are focused on financial success above all else. 

For example, signs of affluenza include a preoccupation with work and earning more money, as well as extreme materialism and consumerism. Individuals struggling with affluenza might experience feelings of guilt, lack of motivation, and chronic dissatisfaction with their current situation. 


“Lowcashism,” a term coined in a 2016 HuffPost article, is described as the opposite of affluenza. It refers to a condition in which people are trapped in a cycle of poverty and make decisions that affect their lives negatively without realizing the potential consequences. 

How Affluenza Works

People struggling with affluenza often feel dissatisfied with their current level of success, regardless of how much material wealth they’ve accumulated. In pursuit of more money, they may work excessively and tie their self-worth to their wealth and possessions. 


Ironically, an individual’s belief that more money will make them happy may actually result in a perpetual state of unhappiness. 

Research has shown several negative effects of wealth in children and adults over the past three decades:

  • Depression and anxiety: Some studies have found higher rates of depression in economically advanced countries compared with less developed countries. In a U.S. study, affluent adolescents reported more signs of anxiety and depression than did youth whose households earned less than the median household income.
  • Lack of intimacy and connection: Some research indicates that a single-minded focus on accumulating wealth can lead to a lack of intimacy and connection in personal relationships.
  • Substance use: Several studies have found that affluent youth report higher levels of alcohol and drug use compared to teens from lower-income households. In addition, teens from wealthy families reported using substances to relieve symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.

Affluenza and Privilege

Research has shown that people whose parents earned high incomes are more likely to earn more themselves, and the intergenerational transfer of wealth through home equity, gifts, and savings is well-documented.Growing income inequality and structural inequalities such as housing segregation may mean that affluent individuals have few connections with people outside of their socioeconomic group. They may also demonstrate lower levels of empathy and compassion and develop a sense of entitlement.

The term “affluenza” became widespread in 2013 after it was used as a defense in a well-documented court case. A 16-year-old in Texas struck and killed four pedestrians and injured two of his passengers while driving with a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit. During his trial, the defense claimed the teenager suffered from affluenza, arguing that his privileged upbringing left him unable to understand the consequences of his actions. Although prosecutors requested jail time, the teen received 10 years of probation.

How To Avoid or Recover From Affluenza

While affluenza is not a diagnosable condition, it can negatively affect your mental and financial health. If you recognize some of the signs of affluenza in yourself, here are some steps you can take to prevent it from going further.

Question Advertising Messages

Start by becoming aware of all the ways you’re exposed to advertising throughout the day: when you watch TV, log into social media, or walk past a billboard on the street. Think about how the advertising makes you feel and why it makes you want to buy the item or service. Is it because you actually need or want the item, or because the ad implies that everyone else is doing so? Becoming conscious of these feelings can help you avoid shopping based on feelings of inadequacy or envy. 

Set Financial Goals

Think about what’s most important to you and your quality of life. Is it truly money, or is it what that money might represent, such as the ability to travel or spend more time with family members? Then consider setting financial goals so you can spend money in ways that feel meaningful to you.

Create a Budget

One way to ensure you’re living within your means is to create a budget. Write down your monthly income, bills, and expenses, as well as your savings and other financial goals. Your budget can help you see when you’re spending money in ways that match your financial goals, and when you might be feeling signs of affluenza. 

Key Takeaways

  • Affluenza is a portmanteau of “affluence” and “influenza.” 
  • The term is used to describe the unhealthy effects of wealth on both individuals and society, as well as a condition in which people are focused on financial success above all else. 
  • While the term addresses the social and psychological effects of wealth, affluenza is not a medical or psychological diagnosis.
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  1. HuffPost. “Affluenza Vs. Lowcashism: Gibberish or Justified?

  2. Suniya S. Luthar. “The Culture of Affluence: Psychological Costs of Material Wealth,” Child Development. 

  3. Suniya S. Luthar and Karen D’Avanzo. “Contextual Factors in Substance Use: A Study of Suburban and Inner-City Adolescents,” Developmental Psychology.

  4. Pew Research Center. “6 Facts About Economic Inequality in the U.S.

  5.  Pablo A. Mitnik and David B. Grusky. “The Intergenerational Elasticity of What? The Case for Redefining the Workhorse Measure of Economic Mobility,” Sociological Methodology.

  6. The University of Michigan. “Three Generations of Data Show How Wealthy (White) Families Stay Wealthy.”

  7. Michael W. Kraus, Stéphane Côté, and Dacher Keltner. “Social Class, Contextualism, and Empathic Accuracy,” Psychological Science.

  8. American Bar Association Journal. “'Poor Little Rich Boy,' 16, Gets 10-Year Probation in DUI Crash That Killed 4 People.”

  9. Los Angeles Times. “‘Affluenza’ Outrage: Teen Gets Probation After Killing 4, Injuring 2.”

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