The answer will leave you speechless.

Adults who experienced adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), aka traumatic experiences as children, still pay for what happened to them years, even decades later. But what are adverse childhood experiences? And how do they affect you today?

This article shall attempt to explain ACEs and to help you recognize just how much what happened long ago influences your life now.

What are ACEs?

Many articles have been written about adverse childhood experiences and the study that first identified them. The study I am referring to is the CDC-Kaiser Adverse Childhood Experiences Study conducted between 1995 and 1997. Involving 17,000 participants who shared with the researchers information about their experiences in childhood, the researchers wanted to see if there is a correlation between those that are negative with their subject’s health difficulties.

The CDC-Kaiser study was the first and largest of its kind and brought breathtaking insights showing that there is indeed a correlation between lousy health in adulthood and adverse childhood experiences. It also brought to light that childhood trauma is more common than had been thought, and it is not limited by race, creed, economic status, or any other demographic.

In yet another study published in 2005, it was found that 16% (1 in 6) men and 25% (1 in 4) women reported sexual abuse before their 18th birthday. They also found that abuse rarely came in only one form, as 80% reported at least one other type of abuse in their childhood experience.

Some examples of adverse childhood experiences are listed below:

  • Experiencing child abuse which can be emotional, sexual, physical, or mental
  • Experiencing neglect, either emotional or physical
  • Living in a home where there is substance abuse
  • Witnessing domestic violence
  • Experiencing the divorce or separation of caregivers
  • Witnessing the mental illness of a household member
  • Having a member of the household goes to prison
  • Frequently moving to new homes and areas
  • Experiencing food insecurity
  • Experiencing the death or abandonment of a family member

The above list is only a partial list as there are many adverse childhood experiences as there are children to suffer from them.

How Do Adverse Childhood Experiences Affect You Today?

You may be scratching your head asking this question and wondering if you have been negatively impacted as an adult by what happened to you when you were a child.

The answer may or may not surprise you.

Adverse childhood experiences may be impacting you in many ways, including physical health problems, mental health conditions, personally and societally.

Physical health problems. Having experienced adverse experiences in childhood, such as neglect or abuse, may be impacting your life today. Some potential consequences of adverse childhood experiences may include any or all of the following:

  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Physical injury
  • Maternal problems
  • Contracting a sexually transmitted infection

According to a study by Holgerson et al., in 2018, people who have a high score in adverse childhood experiences have an increased risk of obesity and poor outcomes following weight loss efforts such as bariatric surgery.

Mental health conditions. As the consequence of experiencing adverse experiences, you may have now developed mental health issues such as the following:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Complex post-traumatic stress disorder
  • A substance abuse disorder
  • Addictive behaviors towards food
  • Suicidal behaviors and actions

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevention of ACEs might reduce the number of cases of depression by twenty-one million, increasing the quality of life for millions.

Personal problems. People who have experienced adverse childhood experiences are more likely to experience other challenges in their lives, which may include:

  • Challenges related to finishing their education
  • Challenges related to lost job opportunities
  • Becoming a violent perpetrator themselves
  • Experiencing teenage pregnancy
  • Becoming involved in sex trafficking

The above list is not all-inclusive.

Societal problems. Adults who experienced negative experiences in childhood are at an enormous economic and societal disadvantage, which leads to long-term healthcare and incarceration costs.

Experiencing ACEs also leads to a higher risk of violent offending and causing damages to other people’s property. But perhaps the most heinous of all the problems from ACEs is that people who experienced them may contribute to the adverse childhood experiences for their children, causing the effects of ACEs to become intergenerational.

What Can Society Do to Eliminate Adverse Childhood Experiences?

Much research is done today to find the answer to the above question.

According to a report published by the CDC National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Division of Violence Prevention, 62% of adults across 23 states reported they had experienced at least one ACE during childhood, with ~25% stating they experienced three or more ACEs.

The report also said, “Creating and sustaining safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments for all children and families can prevent ACEs and help all children reach their full health and life potential.”

Evidence collected by the Centers for Disease Control points to the fact that adverse childhood experiences can be prevented by:

  • Strengthening economic supports for families
  • Promoting social norms that protect against violence and adversity
  • Ensuring a solid start for children and paving the way for them to reach their full potential
  • Teaching skills to help parents and youth handle stress, manage emotions and tackle everyday challenges
  • Connecting youth to caring adults and activities
  • Intervening to lessen immediate and long-term harms

Clearly, as a society must lay aside our prejudices and pride to accept that ACEs are preventable, and only through spending money to shore up supports for families and children can we defeat their destructive effects.

Pulling It All Together

Millions of children experience adverse childhood experiences every day. If you are interested in finding your ACE score, please visit this site and answer the ten questions as honestly as you can. The higher your ACE score, the more your life may have been affected.

Armed with this knowledge, you can talk to your doctor and get a referral to a therapist or at least understand better why you have the problems you do.

Having a high ACE score is not a death sentence. Indeed, knowing yourself better can help you find solutions to any problems you have developed.

To do further reading on adverse childhood experiences, go to this CDC page and click on many research papers on the subject.

“I know I won’t live long. So, I’m going to stand strong and not sit down in disbelief, hold my head up high and not waste my time wondering why my life has to be so rough and unfair. I’m going to strive and live every day for the better until that day arrives.” ~ Jonathan Anthony Burkett

If you or a loved one live in the despair and isolation that comes with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, please, come to us for help. CPTSD Foundation offers a wide range of services, including:

All our services are reasonably priced, and some are even free. So, to gain more insight into how complex post-traumatic stress disorder is altering your life and how you can overcome it, sign-up; we will be glad to help you.

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