ACEs May Heighten Health Risks Later in Life
People who go through significant trauma while growing up may have a shorter life expectancy. When combined with factors like genetics and social conditions, adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, can also be risk factors for addiction. Drug or alcohol dependence is often, at least partially, a comfort-seeking response to the trauma someone experienced as a child. Find out more about ACEs, the research, and the risks. Learn how Granite Recovery Centers can help with your recovery.
Who Is Affected by ACEs?
According to the CDC-Kaiser ACE Study, more than 60% of adults have been through at least one adverse childhood experience. The more ACEs in a person’s past, the greater the chance of a shorter lifespan, poor health, and substance use.
About 20% of the ACE study participants had three or more adverse childhood experiences. Women of all races had a greater chance of having four or more ACEs than men. Four or more traumatic experiences raise a person’s risk for depression, coronary heart disease, asthma, and stroke.
Types of Adverse Childhood Experiences
Researchers identified three categories of ACEs: abuse, home difficulties, and neglect. Within each category, there are ACE subtypes.
An adult or older sibling in a household may have verbally, physically, or sexually assaulted a child. Their actions made the child afraid or caused physical injury.
This occurs when parents repeatedly swear at their children, humiliate them, or call them worthless. For example, an older family member constantly belittles or isolates a younger sibling from friends.
This includes hitting, choking, battering, or withholding food and water. If this happens to children regularly, it will likely have lasting adverse health effects.
If someone at least five years old touches children inappropriately or initiates other sexual conduct, it qualifies as sexual abuse. This has a high probability of causing health issues later in life. This type of abuse can continue for years before it ends or is discovered by authorities. This abuse often occurs at the hands of a family member or close friend.
Trouble at Home
Children who grow up amid violence and abuse, even if someone else was the target of the abuser, have another ACE factor. Perhaps one of the parents physically or emotionally abused the other. The perpetrator could also have been a live-in boyfriend or another adult.
This ACE category also includes growing up around substance use. For example, maybe a child had an alcoholic parent or lived with an illicit drug user, and it causes considerable stress.
If someone in the home has a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety, that may also be traumatic to a child. In extreme instances, that person may have attempted or completed suicide.
Divorce could also be an ACE, especially if it were adversarial. For example, perhaps the child’s parents separated multiple times but kept getting back together, only to have the cycle of fighting continue.
Another trouble at home may have been a family member going to prison. The stigma of being related to a criminal, or simply the absence of that loved one, could have a lasting adverse effect on a child.
Neglect may be emotional or physical in nature. Sometimes, it is both. For example, if parents often ignore their children, never speaking to them, praising them, or saying they love them, that is emotional neglect. Perhaps they never comforted their children when they were upset, or they rarely attended to the children’s emotional needs.
If children are frequently unfed, unwashed, or unprotected by caregivers, they are victims of physical neglect. Sometimes, the parents do not take them to the doctor when they get seriously hurt. In other situations, the parents never notice if their children attend school regularly.
Both types of neglect can be traumatizing to a child. Like the other ACEs above, these traumas can leave a lasting mark on a child’s emotional and physical well-being.
Health Risks Associated with Adverse Childhood Experiences
ACE can increase health risks, but researchers have identified a significantly greater risk in those with four or more ACEs. Without appropriate treatment, this elevated risk puts people in danger of physical and mental health conditions, a shorter lifespan, and debilitating addiction. Specifically, the significant health risks include the following.
Mental Health Issues
ACEs cause an elevated risk for mental health issues. These include anxiety, depression, PTSD, and even suicide ideation. Fortunately, medication and treatment are available.
With a greater risk for physical injury, people with ACEs may suffer a traumatic brain injury, broken bones, and burns more frequently than others. Professional therapy to address the root of the problems can help.
Women with several ACEs in the past are more likely to experience unplanned pregnancies. They also have an elevated risk of complications with pregnancy and birth.
Survivors of childhood trauma have a greater tendency to put themselves at risk for infectious diseases. Careless or risk-seeking behavior makes them more vulnerable to severe diseases like HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, or other STDs.
Many people with cancer, diabetes, and cardiopulmonary disease are victims of ACEs. The damage done by trauma can make people more vulnerable to chronic illness.
Addiction and Other Risky Behavior
ACEs change the brain in ways that make someone less resilient and less likely to have strong impulse control. ACEs can damage parts of the brain that communicate pleasure and provide rewards. As a result, people sometimes begin to abuse substances that help them feel better. They may also put themselves at significant risk more frequently than others because they have trouble controlling their impulses.
Early childhood trauma often leads to lost opportunities. For example, affected people may be unable to hold a job or advance in their career fields due to substance use disorder or chronic illness. As a result, they may have to drop out of college or skip it altogether. This makes it more difficult for them to improve their standard of living.
How Adverse Childhood Experiences Affect the Brain
ACEs have long-lasting effects because they cause changes in the developing brain. Prolonged stress sets off coping mechanisms in the brain that help the person survive both physical and mental trauma.
For example, living in fear could interfere with how the brain’s prefrontal cortex controls logical thinking. It could also cause the amygdala, which regulates emotional responses, to work overtime. These changes could affect how a person responds to difficult situations.
How Do You Address the Effects of Childhood Trauma?
Changes in the brain do not have to control a person’s entire life. Even as an adult, a person’s brain can still adapt for the better.
Other factors such as genetics, environment, and the support of friends can help people with multiple ACEs cope with them more effectively. In addition, therapy can be a significant factor in lowering the risks to a person’s mental and physical health.
At Granite Recovery Centers, some of our most successful strategies for addressing ACEs include:
- Individual and group therapy
- Treating every client with respect
- Providing medication-assisted treatment
- Finding healthier coping mechanisms
Research shows that a person with more ACEs is more likely to develop a substance use disorder during adolescence. That heightened risk continues into adulthood. In addition, the likelihood of SUD increases with the number of ACEs a person experiences. That’s why we believe that trauma-informed therapy is critical to treatment.
By identifying the ACEs in a client’s past, therapists can better design a client’s treatment individually. In addition, this approach helps get to the root of the client’s problems, whether a substance use disorder, a mental illness, or in many cases, both.
Once ACEs are identified, we help clients learn healthier approaches to addressing childhood trauma. For example, exercise and fresh air are safer and healthier than drug or alcohol use. Spending time socializing with friends, pursuing interests or hobbies, or going back to school are all opportunities for clients to positively change the trajectory of their lives.
How Granite Recovery Centers Can Help
No two life journeys are identical. Likewise, no one’s experience of childhood trauma is the same as another’s. That is why we strive to work with each client on an individual and group basis in the therapy we provide.
We also offer several therapeutic options to suit individual needs. They include the wellness recovery action plan, an evidence-based treatment approach, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Each client’s therapist helps determine a course of treatment tailored to the client’s situation.
We believe family involvement is critical to successful treatment and encourage family members to be present. Additionally, we want our clients to feel safe and comfortable while at our facilities. We work hard to maintain our reputation as a quality addiction and mental health treatment provider. Get in touch with Granite Recovery Centers today to learn more.