Adverse Childhood Experiences & NEGATIVE effect on adult health

Many of the clients with life altering medical conditions I’ve seen over the years have had childhood trauma. This article caught my attention.

Brain studies are clear that trauma memory is stored differently for easy access so that we remain vigilant and safe.  These clients are often hyper-vigiliant and in a state of constant stress.  The stress arousal becomes the norm and they habituate to it.  Chronic states of stress lower immune responses, tax the adrenal systems among many other things and are clearly implicated in life altering medical conditions.

I won’t go into it all because this post is already too lengthy.  But I urge you all to read the following information as I’m sure you, a loved one or someone you know has been affected by childhood trauma.

 There’s a link to the ACE test at the bottom of this post

“When Dr. Vincent Felitti, head of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Kaiser Permanente in San Diego, began to delve into the reasons for the high dropout rate of patients who’d been successfully losing weight in Kaiser’s obesity program, he found to his surprise that a high proportion of those dropping out had histories of childhood abuse or neglect.

Dr. Robert Anda, who had been doing research with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the psychosocial origins of health-risk behaviors in patients at VA hospitals, heard Felitti speak about his findings, and in 1992 the two began to collaborate on the largest-scale study to date of the incidence and effects of childhood trauma, known as the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study.

According to data collected from the over 17,000 Kaiser patients in this ongoing retrospective and prospective study, adverse childhood experiences, though well concealed, are unexpectedly common, have a profound negative effect on adult health and well-being a half century later, and are a prime determinant of adult health status in the United States.

The ACE Study has major implications for the healthcare professions: that all patients should be routinely screened for adverse childhood experiences; that a childhood trauma history may be very relevant to both serious illness and vague somatic complaints; and that appropriate approaches to treatment must include dealing with childhood trauma.The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study:
Bridging the gap between childhood trauma and negative consequences later in life. The ACE Study is an ongoing collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente. Led by Co-principal Investigators Robert F. Anda, MD, MS, and Vincent J. Felitti, MD, the ACE Study is perhaps the largest scientific research study of its kind, analyzing the relationship between multiple categories of childhood trauma (ACEs), and health and behavioral outcomes later in life.”

The following categories all occurred in the participants’ first 18 years of life.

1. Recurrent physical abuse
2. Recurrent emotional abuse
3. Contact sexual abuse
4. An alcohol and/or drug abuser in the
5. An incarcerated household member
6. Someone who is chronically depressed,
mentally ill, institutionalized, or suicidal
7. Mother is treated violently
8. One or no parents
9. Emotional or physical neglect

ACE -Adverse Childhood Experiences Definitions


Emotional Abuse
Often or very often a parent or other adult in the household swore at you, insulted you, or put you down and sometimes, often or very often acted in a way that made you think that you might be physically hurt.

Physical Abuse
Sometimes, often, or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at you or ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured.

Sexual Abuse

An adult or person at least 5 years older ever touched or fondled you in a sexual way, or had you touch their body in a sexual way, or attempted oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse with you or actually had oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse with you.


Emotional Neglect1

Respondents were asked whether their family made them feel special, loved, and if their family was a source of strength, support, and protection. Emotional neglect was defined using scale scores that represent moderate to extreme exposure on the Emotional Neglect subscale of the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ) short form.

Physical Neglect1
Respondents were asked whether there was enough to eat, if their parents drinking interfered with their care, if they ever wore dirty clothes, and if there was someone to take them to the doctor. Physical neglect was defined using scale scores that represent moderate to extreme exposure on the Physical Neglect subscale of the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ) short form constituted physical neglect.

Household Dysfunction

Mother Treated Violently
Your mother or stepmother was sometimes, often, or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her and/or sometimes often, or very often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard, or ever repeatedly hit over at least a few minutes or ever threatened or hurt by a knife or gun.

Household Substance Abuse
Lived with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic or lived with anyone who used street drugs.

Household Mental Illness
A household member was depressed or mentally ill or a household member attempted suicide.

Parental Separation or Divorce
Parents were ever separated or divorced.

Incarcerated Household Member
A household member went to prison.

Take the ACE test at:

5 comments on “Adverse Childhood Experiences & NEGATIVE effect on adult health

  1. i experienced nearly everything on the list for the ACE, and the “outside the home” trauma was high, too. It has now been a long time since the last time I was abused. I have learned to stand up for myself, which was nearly impossible for a very long time. I used to echo everyone’s bad comments about me, especially my family. That was especially self-destructive. Only in the last two years have I started correcting the negative beliefs about myself and my behavior.

    The wonderful thing is that now I am feeling balanced and happy. Not much of a negative sort comes up for me any more. I do often wake up feelig negative, going over negative memories. I can now tell those thoughts to vanish -and they do!

    The first time that worked I laughed out loud. I never had control of the negative feelings. That was strengthened by my mother’s endless accusations of my negativity and her insistance that everything that happened to me was my own fault. The more she denied my experience, the more ingrained my thoughts became. I can now start the day on a positive note and enjoy my life.

    At 59 I can now say my life is happy and I am looking forward to the rest of my life.


  2. I actually sent the ACE folks a comment. I think a component that they might want to consider is the abuse, neglect, and trauma children suffer OUTSIDE of the family unit (if they haven’t already). {Hate these jumping comment boxes where you can’t access the last few lines of your comment — guess it’s to keep you brief, LOL. While my ACE score wasn’t super high (I had a strange family), if I had been rating it on what went on out in the broader world, it would have been much higher.
    I attended school (changing schools sometimes every year and a half because we moved) when bullying by classmates, schoolmates, and teachers was not acknowledged or even commented on. I was either harrassed (mostly verbally) or completely ignored — as if I didn’t exist. I had teachers stand me up in class and call me names. I had girls make up rumo(u)rs about me; I was shunned and ostracized for things I hadn’t even done. I didn’t name names — it just wasn’t done, not like me then or now, nor did I tell my parents much about it.
    So much of the issues I had/have as a adult come from what happened to me out in the broader world. There are issues from my parents parenting, my mother’s depression, etc., but it was the horror of elementary and high school that haunts me the most when using the age of 18, as ACE does, as the cut-off point.


    • Lorraine,
      You are absolutely correct. The ACE study just measures “in house” trauma and for whatever reason doesn’t take your kind of experiences into account. No matter WHERE or HOW trauma occurs alters the brain. As a matter of fact there’s documented brain scans showing that the developing childhood brain STRUCTURES are altered through trauma.
      Everyone I have seen or see in my practice who went through childhood bullying and moving have suffered into adulthood more than anyone knows. I see it everyday. There are imagery techniques that can help – I see that also.
      My heart goes out to you and everyone who has gone through brutal treatment by peers and adults.
      with much love,


  3. Childhood trauma is an interesting theory. I’m positive that the brain processes trauma differently. I do know that through adoption and the trauma of subsequent death of my parents I have had issues and a real strong antenna for abandonment and rejection.

    Very interesting…………


    • Rose,
      The “issues” of all of us, I am convinced by the latest brain research, are not of character, intelligence, psychology, but of neuro-biochemical-EMOTIONAL MEMORy retrieval. Once they are taken out of the realm of psychological the neurochemical triggers can be reduced, minimized – that’s a huge part of my practice.
      I don’t pretend it’s the whole story but it’s a large part.
      with love,


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