It’s a word that, until a couple of years ago, sent people scrambling for a dictionary or a Google search. The truth is, while the word has become more mainstream because of a Texas court case, it still confounds a lot of people.
The word is “affluenza.” It’s pronounced Af-loo-en-za.
Urban and slang dictionaries generally define “affluenza” this way: “a psychological malaise supposedly affecting wealthy young people, symptoms of which include a lack of motivation, feelings of guilt, and a sense of isolation.”
The term hit pop culture after the 2013 manslaughter trial of Ethan Couch, whose defense included a witness saying the teenager was a product of “profoundly dysfunctional” parents who gave him too much and never taught him the consequences of his actions.
Couch had a blood-alcohol level nearly three times above the legal limit for an adult, police said, when the pickup truck he was driving struck and killed four people in Texas: a stranded motorist and three people who stopped to assist. Couch was 16 at the time.
At his trial in 2013, which was held in juvenile court, a psychologist testified for the defense that Couch was so spoiled he could not tell right from wrong. The psychologist described the condition as “affluenza.”
Couch was sentenced to 10 years probation, during which he was to remain alcohol- and drug-free. The sentence sparked outrage from critics. Many of who ridiculed the affluenza defense and suggested his family’s wealth helped the teen stay out of jail.
The case took a wild turn when, in December, Couch fled to Mexico with his mother, Tonya Couch. The Couches apparently fled when a video surfaced on social media that appeared to show Couch at a party where alcohol was being consumed — a clear violation of his parole. Many believe the Couches traveled over the border, fearful that Ethan would be arrested.
Mother and son’s time in Mexico made national headlines, and also was short-lived. With the help of the Mexican government, Couch was returned to Texas in January. Tonya Couch faces up to 10 years in prison for helping her son flee.
In February, Texas authorities transferred Couch’s case to the adult court system. He is currently serving 120 days in prison as part of the transfer to the adult court system. He is in solitary confinement, Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson said.
Couch could face up to 40 years in prison for any further probation violations, court officials said. Couch turns 19 on April 11.
“He always acted like this was some type of game and that his wealth and privilege would protect him,” Anderson told a Reuters news agency reporter in February, adding that being in jail “has truly humbled him.”
What About the Word Affluenza?
There is no medical basis for the term, according to Frank Farley, a professor of educational psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia.
“It’s pop psychology at its worst example,” Farley told ABC News.
While most DUI cases aren’t as notorious as Couch’s, all DUI cases are serious. Contact the legal offices of Alpert Schreyer in Maryland. Andrew Alpert is a nationally acclaimed DUI defense attorney and his team of experienced legal professionals can help you. Call or contact us for a free consultation.