What Is Ethan Couch's 'Affluenza': An Explainer

There is no medical basis for the term, one professor says.

ByABC News
December 30, 2015, 2:43 PM

— -- The term "affluenza" hit pop culture after the infamous 2013 manslaughter trial of Ethan Couch, whose defense included a witness saying the teen was a product of "profoundly dysfunctional" parents who gave him too much and never taught him the consequences of his actions.

Here’s what you should know about it.

Who Popularized the Term?

It's not a recognized medical condition but still gained traction after Couch’s defense team hired a psychologist named G. Dick Miller, whose testimony included the term "affluenza" during his argument that the teen should be treated at a rehab facility instead of serving a jail term.

Miller has said that Couch was raised by his parents with "no reasonable boundaries." He said the teen was taught by his parents that if he hurt someone, he could send money.

Miller, though not the first to use “affluenza,” said Couch's parents also taught him, "to an extent," that other people were beneath him and have no worth.

What Do Psychologists Say About the Term?

There is no medical basis for the term "affluenza," according to Frank Farley, a professor of educational psychology at Temple University and the former president of the American Psychological Association.

"It's pop psychology at its worst example," Farley told ABC News.

He said the term does appear to have similarities to other diagnosable conditions, including narcissism disorder, but "the science is close to zero" that would allow it to be part of a diagnostic system.

Farley did say, however, that "affluenza" suggests concepts that deserve more study, including how a social class or parental actions can influence a teen's actions.

"A kid raised in this cocoon of social class may not even have the same concepts of social responsibility that everyday folks have," Farley said, adding this does not absolve people of their actions.

Where Did the Term Originate?

The term reportedly popped up after Jessie O'Neill, a granddaughter of a former president of General Motors, wrote the book "The Golden Ghetto: The Psychology of Affluence," according to The Associated Press.

The term was used to talk about children and teens who may act entitled or irresponsible and make excuses for acting out or displaying bad behavior. The term is a combination of the words affluent and influenza.

ABC News' Sean Dooley and Alexa Valiente contributed to this report.