Proponents of the term consider the costs of prizing material wealth vastly outweigh the benefits. They claim those who become wealthy will find the economic success leaving them unfulfilled and hungry for more wealth. The condition is considered particularly acute amongst those with inherited wealth, who are often said to experience guilt, lack of purpose and dissolute behavior, as well as obsession with holding on to the wealth (John Levy's Coping with Inherited Wealth - see ).
Critics of the term suggest that the term is a ghastly neologism, which relies upon a viral metaphor to describe an ill-defined social anxiety.
James also believes that higher rates of mental disorders are the consequence of excessive wealth-seeking in consumerist nations. . He cites World Health Organization data that English-speaking nations have twice as much mental illness as mainland Europe: 23% vs 11.5% suffered in the twelve months ending . James defines affluenza as 'placing a high value on money, possessions, appearances (physical and social) and fame,' and this becomes the rationale behind the increasing mental illness in English-speaking societies. He explains the greater incidence of affluenza as the result of 'Selfish Capitalism,' the neo-conservative or Market Liberal political governance found in English-speaking nations as compared to the less selfish capitalism pursued in mainland Europe. James asserts that societies can remove the negative consumerist effects by pursuing real needs over perceived wants, and by defining themselves as having value independent of their material possessions.
They note that a number of Australians have reacted by "downshifting" — they decided to "reduce their incomes and place family, friends and contentment above money in determining their life goals." Their critique leads them to identify the need for an "alternative political philosophy," and the book concludes with a "political manifesto for wellbeing" (see ).
The term affluenza was popularized in the United States by the 1997 documentary of the same name from KCTS and Seattle and Oregon Public Broadcasting. John de Graaf, producer of the documentary, also co-authored a book with the same title.
Affluenza is mentioned in Chumbawamba's song Buy Nothing Day.
Radio talker Rush Limbaugh regularly runs a parody advertisement mocking the concept and suggesting that those "stricken with affluenza" can be cured by listening to his program.
Affluenza is also mentioned in the song "1 and 3", from the punk-rock band MxPx
"We're possessed, obsessed in turn we're more depressed we're doomed, consumed we gotta get that monkey off our backs affluenza, a-fflu-enza!"