Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are a significant risk factor for substance use disorders and can impact prevention efforts. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are stressful or traumatic events, including abuse and neglect. They may also include household dysfunction such as witnessing domestic violence or growing up with family members who have substance use disorders. ACEs are strongly related to the development and prevalence of a wide range of health problems throughout a person’s lifespan, including those associated with substance misuse.

Read Our Study

Mark Welty, one of TVN’s resident PhDs, co-authored a recent study about trauma-informed work with from our own data related to ACEs.

Prevention Efforts

ACEs are a good example of the types of complex issues that the staff of The Village Network often faces.  The negative effects of ACEs are felt throughout the nation and can affect people of all backgrounds. Successfully addressing their impact requires:

  • Assessing prevention needs and gathering data
  • Effective and sustainable prevention approaches guided by applying a prevention framework
  • Prevention efforts aligned with the widespread occurrence of ACEs
  • Building relationships with appropriate community partners through strong collaboration

How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime | Nadine Burke Harris

Types of ACEs

  • Mother treated violently
  • Substance misuse within household
  • Household mental illness
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • Incarcerated household member
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect

ACE Research

Many studies have examined the relationship between ACEs and a variety of known risk factors for disease, disability, and early mortality. The Division of Violence Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in partnership with Kaiser Permanente, conducted a landmark ACE study from 1995 to 1997 with more than 17,000 participants. The study found:

  • ACEs are common. For example, 28% of study participants reported physical abuse and 21% reported sexual abuse. Many also reported experiencing a divorce or parental separation, or having a parent with a mental and/or substance use disorder.
  • ACEs cluster. Almost 40% of the Kaiser sample reported two or more ACEs and 12.5% experienced four or more. Because ACEs cluster, many subsequent studies now look at the cumulative effects of ACEs rather than the individual effects of each.
  • ACEs have a dose-response relationship with many health problems. As researchers followed participants over time, they discovered that a person’s cumulative ACEs score has a strong, graded relationship to numerous health, social, and behavioral problems throughout their lifespan, including substance use disorders. Furthermore, many problems related to ACEs tend to be comorbid or co-occurring.

ACEs Research and Behavioral Health

Research has demonstrated a strong relationship between ACEs, substance use disorders, and behavioral problems. When children are exposed to chronic stressful events, their neurodevelopment can be disrupted. As a result, the child’s cognitive functioning or ability to cope with negative or disruptive emotions may be impaired. Over time, and often during adolescence, the child may adopt negative coping mechanisms, such as substance use or self-harm. Eventually, these unhealthy coping mechanisms can contribute to disease, disability, and social problems, as well as premature mortality.

ACEs And Substance Use Disorders

ACEs And Behavioral Problems

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