What the Research Shows
The US Center for Disease Control in tandem with Kaiser Permanente conducted a massive study of over 17,000 people during 1995-1997. Led by physicians Vincent Felitti and Robert Anda, the study analyzed the relationship between the participants’ Adverse Childhood Experiences, a/k/a “ACEs”, and their adult health conditions.
The results were shocking. They revealed that ACEs are common across all populations and that almost two-thirds of the participants had experienced one or more ACEs.
More importantly, the study discovered that ACEs are strongly related to adverse effects on health and well-being over the lifespan. They have been linked to risky health behaviors, chronic health conditions, low life potential and early death.
The More ACEs, the Greater the Health Risks
The research has shown that the greater the number of ACEs a person has experienced, the more likely he or she is to have later health and social problems.
In fact, according to the study the number of ACEs an individual suffered predicts later serious health problems with surprising accuracy. The findings included:
- People who experienced 4 or more categories of ACEs were twice as likely to be diagnosed with cancer as individuals with no ACEs.
- A woman’s chances for being hospitalized with an autoimmune disease rose by 20 percent with each increase in her ACE Score.
- A person with an ACE Score of 4 was more than 4 times more likely to suffer from depression than someone with no ACEs.
- An individual with an ACE Score of 6 or higher will have a shorter lifespan by almost 20 years.
What exactly are ACEs?
The term “Adverse Childhood Experience” encompasses a variety of chronic and stress-inducing events that some children under the age of 18 have faced. ACEs have been categorized as follows:
- Emotional abuse: A parent, stepparent, or adult living in your home swore at you, insulted you, put you down, or acted in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt.
- Physical abuse: A parent, stepparent, or adult living in your home pushed, grabbed, slapped, threw something at you, or hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured.
- Sexual abuse: An adult, relative, family friend, or stranger who was at least 5 years older than you ever touched or fondled your body in a sexual way, made you touch his/her body in a sexual way, attempted to have any type of sexual intercourse with you.
- Mother treated violently: Your mother or stepmother was pushed, grabbed, slapped, had something thrown at her, kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, hit with something hard, repeatedly hit for over at least a few minutes, or ever threatened or hurt by a knife or gun by your father (or stepfather) or mother’s boyfriend.
- Substance abuse in the household: A household member was a problem drinker or alcoholic or a household member used street drugs.
- Mental illness in the household: A household member was depressed or mentally ill or a household member attempted suicide.
- Parental separation or divorce: Your parents were ever separated or divorced.
- Incarcerated household member: A household member went to prison.
- Emotional neglect: You did not have the experience that someone in your family helped you feel important or special, you felt loved, people in your family looked out for each other and felt close to each other, and your family was a source of strength and support.
- Physical neglect: You did not have the experience that there was someone to take care of you, protect you, and take you to the doctor if you needed it2, you didn’t have enough to eat, your parents were too drunk or too high to take care of you, and you had to wear dirty clothes.
What are your odds?
Think about it.
Based on these study findings, you have a 2 out of 3 chance of having experienced at least one ACE as a child.
You have a 1 in 5 shot at having experienced three or more ACEs.
If you are a woman, you are 50% more likely than men to have suffered more than 5 ACEs.
The more ACEs you have experienced, the more likely you are to have serious effects on your personal health and well-being.
What can you do about it?
There are a number of steps you can take to reduce the consequences of ACEs.
You can start by taking an honest look at your own childhood experience to identify whether you may have suffered ACEs.
Once you understand how the past can have profound effects on your current health and well-being, you can take steps to heal from the emotional wounds of the past and find healing in the present.
Don’t go it alone. Your road to discovery and recovery is most safely and quickly walked with the skilled assistance of a qualified therapist. By uncovering and sharing your early experiences with a caring and knowledgeable professional, you can begin the process of healing and move towards health and wholeness in your life.
If you feel that you may be suffering from the legacy of adverse childhood experiences in your own life, I would be happy to meet with you to discuss how I can help.