Teen Substance Abuse in Wealthy Families

In most cases, teens addicted to alcohol and drugs feel the shame and stigma that accompanies a teen substance abuse disorder. In fact, they might not readily admit that they are shameful of their substance use, but they might keep it a secret. Or they might refuse to participate in teen drug treatment which would require an open disclosure of their addiction.


This frequently keeps them feeling alone. The disease of addiction is often very isolating for people. And, this is compounded when a teen’s family is wealthy or has an elite identity. In drug counseling, this is sometimes referred to as the double closet – having to keep the addiction behind closed doors because of the stigma but also because of the family’s socioeconomic status.


Although it’s rarely acknowledged, talking about money can also be a taboo. In the American culture and within families, money is frequently a subject that is discussed privately. And even when it is discussed, conversations around money can come with feelings of shame, guilt, anger, and powerlessness. In fact, research indicates that most are more comfortable talking about sexuality than they are discussing their finances.


It might be difficult at first for teens who come from a wealthy family and who possess an identity of wealth. This is especially true if a teen eventually decides to go into a residential treatment program. For instance, teens might at first see treatment staff as serving them. Those with money might even look at a therapist in that way, believing that he or she is serving them, rather than having an equal client-therapist relationship.


In fact, having a relationship in which a wealthy teen can trust residential treatment staff will facilitate him or her in surrendering to the process of recovery. One of the most essential components to therapeutic change and teen substance abuse treatment is the relationship he or she has with the therapist. The therapeutic relationship has been proven to be the most vital ingredient to seeing a client improve. In fact, there is growing research that points to the therapeutic relationship as the most significant factor in the improved well being of clients and this has proven to be true regardless of the diagnosis. Additionally, many clinicians might also agree that although there are specific treatment interventions they work with, without the therapeutic alliance, those treatments may not be as effective.


Also, some wealthy teens might feel objectified, used, and idolized for their wealth while in a residential treatment center.  Yet, for change to occur, teens must be able to feel as though they are heard and understood. “They must intuitively feel they are valued for the emotionally vulnerable human beings they are and not manipulated as the result of their elite status. In short, they must become vulnerable with their full identities and trust the people and communities in whom they’ve entrusted their care,” said Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, Senior Clinical Director at Caron Renaissance.


Essentially, empathy between a wealthy teen and the staff around them will help to facilitate trust, openness, honesty, and a sense of surrender and relaxation. Once a teen feels the empathetic space around him or her, this milieu can also facilitate insight, the ability to explore memories of the past, along with memories of the present, and imagine how it might be in the future. In this empathetic environment, a teen then feels safe to surrender and to begin the process of healing and personal exploration.


It’s important that the empathetic milieu of a residential treatment facility be present for those who feel guarded or defended against the perceptions of others. If a teen of elite status were looking for a treatment facility, this is an essential factor to his or her teen substance abuse treatment.