The Existential Pain of Being Young, White, and Affluent

Abuse of prescription drugs is most common among those who enjoyed the most advantages in adolescence, causing some to rethink the consequences of privilege.

The Atlantic

By sophomore year Evan was sleeping on a blowup mattress in an empty house off campus. He had no bed. No furniture. No posters or mini-fridge or shelf fraught with textbooks. He had no friends. He had sold the former, severed ties with latter, and now spent his hours curled up on an Aerobed until his dealer came through.

This is where the police found him. They wanted to know why he had purchased 43 calculus books when there wasn't a single calculus class on his course load. He had been buying them on his parent's credit card and selling them back for cash. When his parents called after having words with the police, his feebleness dislodged the truth:

"I've been an Oxycontin addict for the past two years, and I need help."

* * *

Prescription drug abuse is now recognized as a page in our catalogue of national issues. The stories of its victims elicit both sympathy and rage. Fingers are pointed all over, but only recently has the government has begun to act. The FDA is pushing for stricter regulations. Industry literature is being reevaluated. "Take-Back" initiatives designed to dispose of unused drugs are being implemented in many states, and prescription drug monitoring programs are already being used in most.

Pills allow young adults to continue their lifestyles of overdependence and reliance even once they leave the crust-less sandwich comfort of their homes.

These tactics, however, almost exclusively deal with the supply side of the problem. As we've seen with marijuana and psilocybin mushrooms, and several Schedule I drugs sprinkled like pixie dust over many an adolescent memory -- regardless of how fortified the supply becomes with federal red tape, demand almost always comes out victorious.

The question is, why is there a hot demand for prescription drugs to begin with? And who, exactly, is doing the demanding?

This would have been fairly easy to answer some years ago when the opioid abuse so regnant in low-income, rural communities (pigeonholed as "hillbilly heroin") was the role prescription drug addiction seemed to be playing on the national stage. Painkillers promise a quick metaphysical escape for those living in insufferable states of poverty. They also provide a lucrative business with a street price tag of a dollar per milligram. But what of the most recent demographic to come to the forefront of disheartening statistical surveys? What of white, affluent, youth -- a social group which, historically, has it better than anyone else?

Kids born between the years 1984 and 1990 abuse painkillers (the cause of three of every four overdoses) 40 percent more than any other age group or time before them. A study published in Health Affairs on Wednesday suggests that the increase in fatal drug overdoses among youth has grown so severe that it is a "major contributor" in the gap between life expectancy in the U.S. and other high-income countries. In 2011 alone, close to 1.7 million people between the ages of 12 and 25 (over 4,500 young people per day) abused a prescription drug for the first time; three-fourths of them were white. According to a 2009 survey, 88 percent of those admitted to treatment for the abuse of opioid-based medication, and 66 percent of those admitted for stimulants, were also white. Those who abuse prescription drugs in college are more likely to be white, as well as male, have a mother with a bachelor's degree or more, and perform poorly academically.


Evan was all of the above.

"I remember sitting by a fire in the eleventh grade and taking the medication and thinking to myself that if I had this every day in infinite amounts for the rest of my life I would use it all," he said. "I would take it every day, and I wouldn't have any problems. My life would be fine."

Evan had just gotten his wisdom teeth removed. He had been prescribed twenty 7.5 hydrocodone's and had taken his first two. He was sitting beside the fireplace in his four-story house with a central staircase that spiraled up. He admired his parents, and they were thoroughly devoted to him. He attended a prestigious private school and had the camaraderie of a pack of plucky friends. To an outsider, he would appear to have no real "problems" apart from the bloody pits in his gums. But as he approached college, Evan had become increasingly distressed.

LOL @ 43 calculus books

seriously, that must have been such a waste of money, knowing how little money you get back on selling back textbooks...

might have paid off better to come clean to your parents about what you really need the money for... =D

at the very least it would have saved a lot of time and hassle.
As a young, white, affluent male, I can say that there's some existential pain associated with the position. Hell, most of the drug users I know are YWAM, but that's not really saying much.

However, I don't think that's what this article is about. It looks more like a case of old, white, affluent males having an epiphany. "This national problem is now starting to affect our white, affluent youth! Time to fucking DO something about it."
bagochina;11409784 said:
At least he wasn't stealing the calc books.

I have a friend that did that for many years-even when he had dropped out of the school. He eventually got banned from campus for it when he got caught.

He would just steal the books from the library and then sell them back to the bookstore...over and over and over again.
yeah i hope those young white affluent males really feel that existential pain that their rich ancestors brought about in the first place. I think the world will be a better place with these pieces of shit addicted to pain meds rather than being competitive in our fucked up society. sorry i'm rooting for the underdog junkie who grew up with nothing and still keeps their shit together as opposed to their rich junkie counterparts who should inevitably fail.
The Atlantic Monthly's choice to trot out Evan reminds me of Jerry Springer's choice in guests, or celebrity gossip rags -- I'm sure the editors knew full well that for many readers, the trainwreck appeal of his story would be more Schadenfreude than sympathy. I see both sides of this. On the one hand, it's good to remember that not even the most idyllic childhood in the richest neighborhood can protect one from the pain of sentient existence. On the other hand, asking ordinary people who lack a lot of what they need to sympathize with the pain of someone who had it all is a pretty hard sell.

From a realist perspective, this is a pretty good case study for why shielding your children from all hardship is doing them no favors. Those parents who say "I want my children to have it better than I did" or "I don't want my children to suffer as I did", had better take a long hard look at how the hardships they endured made them the people they are today, both for better and for worse.

Exposing your children to "the right kind of hardship", which builds character but doesn't cripple them, is a tough balancing act, especially in a society that abounds in quick fixes that money can buy.
i agree the way the article is written is a bit silly but i do find the statistic that those born btw 1984 and 1990 are 40% more likely to abuse painkillers is very interesting..... i fall into that age group and did in fact have a serious problem with painkillers.... i am white and come from a good family i guess the only thing is i am not male... but hey cant win em all right ;)
This article did feel a little obvious, but perhaps that's only because Evan could be a conglomerate character of many people I've known.

I'm a half asian half white girl, upper middle class. Been to private schools only, raised in church and all that good stuff... I got into drinking at university, got sent to rehab, and after that I was quickly weaned off the entity known as Parental Financial Support. I learned about real life fast and hard.

Although the majority of the article didn't do much for me, the ending paragraphs with Evan's reflections on living life are very familiar. Having a roof is totally under appreciated.
This condition has been well documented, along with the results:

Subscribe to Bret Easton Ellis' twitter feed for an ongoing case study of the phenomenon.
is that a nail gun? my friend who's a carpenter shot himself through the thumb once. I've used them a few times, gas ones and ones connected with the hose to the air compressor and from I recall you have to actually push the thing into something before the trigger can be used to shoot the nails, like the tip has to be pressed down onto the wood before you can press and get nails to fire out. So to use it like he is about to wouldn't work, unless it's been modified or unless he used his other hand to steady her forehead and press the gun into the back of her skull and fire away.
Whoever wrote this is extremely bad at writing.

To qualify that, it reads as though they've dashed it out then plodded back through it with a thesaurus inserting obscure alternatives to everyday words in a bid to come across as a cleverer writer. eg 'regnant', and, most ridiculously, a bookshelf 'fraught' with books.

I think she used "fraught" for the consonance.

No posters or mini-fridge or shelf fraught with textbooks

At least it wasn't teeming with tomes, or pregnant with primers.
You can blame the kid for being an addict I guess but I really blame the parents for being so fucking naive

do people even read their credit card statements or is that just too much to ask?

fuck I hate white people like this makes me hate myself
Having had my own addiction and related issues over the years and not coming from an affluent background but knowing people that do. I can safely say that ive observed both sides of the poor/wealthy divide and both sides seem capable of getting themselves into the same level of shit but the ones with a tougher upbringing seem more able and willing to climb back out again.