Impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

  Written by: Sabrina Sourjah
Date Updated: 2/24/2021
Reviewed by: Patrick D. Randolph, Ph.D.

We witness Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) more often than you’d think. Two-thirds of children in the US have witnessed at least one traumatic event by 16. The severity of the adverse event, the support the child has, and the child’s psychological makeup can decide the extent of the long-term impact.

Although a child is legally defined as an individual under 18 years, the brain does not fully mature and complete development until 25 years. It is no secret that an individual’s childhood experiences shape how they behave as adults and their success in life.

What is an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE)?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) as “potentially traumatic events that occur between 0 and 17 years”.

Not all ACEs are extreme forms of abuse. Experiences that can be categorized as culturally normal or insignificant in nature can cause trauma for the child based on the child’s temperament and how the experience is interpreted.

Adverse childhood experiences list

  • Frequently experienced ACEs are as follows.
  • Sexual and physical abuse
  • A neglectful or emotionally unavailable caregiver
  • A parent with a mental disorder
  • Getting bullied by other kids
  • Demanding teachers in school
  • Body image issues
  • Separation from a primary caregiver
  • Getting cyberbullied on social media
  • A family member’s attempted suicide
  • Food insecurity and moving homes often
  • Parental domestic violence

A survey of 25 states found that 61% of adults have experienced at least one type of adverse childhood event. 1 in 6 adults reported having experienced four or more types of ACEs.

Impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

1. Overall Health

When one witnesses adverse childhood events, brain and neurodevelopment are compromised. The effect is felt emotionally, cognitively, and socially. This can impact the overall health of individuals in the short and long terms.

Research has linked ACEs to long-term physical conditions like cancer, heart disease, obesity, liver or lung disease, and diabetes. In fact, the CDC states that 1.9 million heart disease cases could have been prevented by avoiding ACEs. Studies have also confirmed an impact on the self-rated health of adults who have faced ACEs.

2. Surgery Outcomes

According to empirical studies, it has been found that a high preoperative ACE score can result in decreased weight loss after bariatric surgery. If you are recovering from orthopedic surgeries and have faced ACEs, you may have more postoperative complications and longer recovery times.

3. Mental Health

ACEs are connected to many co-occurring mental disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and borderline personality disorder. In worst cases, ACEs can also lead to self-harm and suicide. Those with ACEs also tend to use substances to numb the emotional pain and impact of triggers.

4. Longevity

CDC researchers have found that considerable trauma in childhood can take away 20 years of an average lifetime. Considerable trauma is defined as experiencing six or more ACEs. This is linked to the cumulative impact on overall health and mental health.

5. Life Satisfaction

Relationships and connections are significant factors that contribute to life satisfaction as humans crave meaningful connections. Some of these most meaningful connections are formed with our partners.

Attachment theory suggests that the relationship we have with our primary caregiver in childhood decides whom we choose as our partners and how we behave in our romantic relationships. For instance, those with the dismissive-avoidant attachment style tend to show little emotion and empathy and pull back when a close bond forms with their partner. This has been linked to having had an absent or negligent parent and getting rejected as a child.