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Rich Kid Rehab: Drug Use in Privileged Young Adults

Addiction has been defined in several different ways and the latest one is that it is a medical condition which is chronic, progressive, relapsing disorder. This is known as the brain disease model of addiction. It asserts that addiction is not merely the result of environmental, or the “nurture” aspect in the nature vs. nurture debate; it is also part of one’s nature: there is something different about their brain that contributes to their becoming an addict at some point in their lifetime.

The brain disease model also recognizes that addiction can affect people across socioeconomic, cultural, religious, gender, age, and ethnic lines. That is, the face of addiction is not the long-prevailing image of a homeless, middle-aged white man with a bottle in a brown paper bag. Addicts are from all walks of life: they are young and old; white, black, Latino, Asian; man or woman; poor, middle-class, and even wealthy.

So, with that said, there is growing awareness of drug use in privileged young adults. These kids have never been for want when it comes to having their basic needs met and beyond – they are certainly used to having ‘the nicer things in life.’ However, they may often experience a different type of neglect: emotional neglect.

“Many successful parents have invested more time in their businesses than in their children,” says the Executive Director of the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP), M. L. “Andy” Anderson. “We’ve all gone a little nuts in the past decade with the mirage of fabulous wealth adds Carol Kauffman, who teaches clinical psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “Children can know how important they are to their family, but if it isn’t backed up with consistency of presence, they can feel valued and dismissed, indulged yet deprived.”

Outsourcing the problem kids of the wealthy is a booming business. Each year 10,000 kids attend residential programs to get off drugs and deal with emotional and psychological problems. “Fixing” these kids is a $2 billion-a-year industry in the private sector, which has attracted such firms such as Warburg Pincus. Some 115 such programs are listed by NATSAP – a big trade group; add nonmembers, and some 300 private programs treat kids. This is up tenfold since 1993.

In the past, many well-to-do parents of “problematic” children packed them up and shipped them off to strict boarding schools and even military academies. Now, a growing trend is, rather than sending their kids off to boot-camp-style punishment programs, affluent families are choosing to send their kids to programs whose approach is more the practice of emotional CPR. Privileged youth build self-esteem and learn responsibility in rock-climbing, ropes courses and group therapy. The wealthy parents, meanwhile back home are writing fat checks. In one instance, a rich dad paid $17,000 for one such program and then $5,000 a month in tuition for 30 months. A full course can run $200,000–almost twice the cost of a Harvard degree.


If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse or addiction please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135



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