Of the dozens of diseases to make headlines throughout recent times, affluenza has been hailed as an epidemic. But calling it a disease would be a misnomer. You would scarcely find “affluenza” in any accredited modern medical journal.

“Affluenza” was only recently coined, in 1997, by psychologist Jessie O’Neill in reference to “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.” Simply put, it’s more of a synonym for irresponsibility than a name of an actual disease.

It recently made headlines after becoming the defense for a 16-year-old Texas teen who killed four people while drunk driving. As his lawyers argued, wealth had made him ignorant to consequences—fatally ignorant. Rather than the 20 years he deserved in jail, he received 10 years of probation at Newport Academy, a luxurious beachfront rehab center for five million dollars worth of “therapy.”

While the court system presented a travesty of justice that day, a greater and more worrisome precedent was also set, one that favors irresponsibility and inequality.

No longer are the youth of today encouraged to uphold personal responsibility; rather, their faults are now attributable to some diagnosable affliction. This sentiment can only degenerate the moral compass of today’s youth as caution is thrown to the wind.

Equally implicit in the ruling is a socioeconomic favoritism found in the judicial system that threatens the impartial underpinnings of due process. It’s a small part of a larger trend of the wealthy avoiding legal consequences. Thus, affluenza has truly become a defense for the privileged.

So for those keen on feigning illness in affluenza, perhaps a shot of social responsibility is needed. Only through the actions of individuals, in accepting responsibility and working towards financial mobility, can affluenza finally be eradicated.

Article written by Jerry Chiang