PHOENIX — Wealthy teenagers are more likely to be addicted to alcohol and drugs than other children who are less fortunate, an Arizona State University study found.
“What is so worrisome to me is … There is a physical addiction to drugs or alcohol among these youngsters that is 2 to 3 times higher than [nationwide samples],” lead researcher and psychology professor Suniya Luthar said.
The study followed children from ages 18 to 27. To be eligible, their family had to earn more than $167,000 per year and live in a home worth at least $1 million.
Luthar speculated the higher drug and alcohol use stems in part from pressure put on well-off teenagers by parents, most of whom have college degrees, and peers.
“Essentially you have to be the best, or else you’re not good enough,” she said. “With that pressure comes self-medication … The tremendous pressure these kids say they’re under to excel and achieve and accomplish across multiple domains – academic, extra-curricular, and even social.”
The study also said drug and alcohol use was higher among wealthy children because parents would look the other way, so long as their child was still performing.
“I must be honest, this sent me into a state of great worry,” Luthar said. “What I’ve been hoping is most of these kids will outgrow this; it’s a high-school thing, maybe even a college thing. Down the pike, they’ll settle down and grow out of it.”
Luthar said it is important parents talk to kids about drug and alcohol use, no matter their income level.
“We do need to acknowledge there is an issue here and we must have open channels of communication with our kids,” she said. “If you suspect something’s going on, don’t be afraid to talk about it. Speak about it with love and with honesty.”
Luthar also said waiting until high school to talk to children was far too long.
“By middle school and high school, the horse is already out of the barn. We need to start thinking about this as early as elementary school.”
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