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  • Writer's pictureNicholas Nack

The Impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences

What are they?

Adverse childhood experiences are defined as childhood experiences that are potentially traumatic. This includes experiencing abuse, violence, and neglect, witnessing violence, losing a family member to suicide, or being in an environment that is unstable such as having parents who use substances, are incarcerated, or have mental health problems. These are just a few examples of Adverse Childhood Experiences(ACEs). In a survey done in 25 states, they found that 61% of adults had at least one ACE, and 16% had four or more ACEs. Through research studies, there has been a link made between ACEs and chronic physical and mental health problems, and substance use problems. Having ACEs may also lead to issues with education, employment, and income. Children being exposed to ACEs can lead to something called toxic stress. This can influence the development of the brain, immune, and stress response systems and impact attention, decision making, and learning. It may also be harder for these children to develop stable and healthy relationships. This exposure to toxic stress can also be seen as a result of systemic racism and poverty ("Fast facts: Preventing adverse childhood experiences," 2022).

How can they be prevented?

Helping strengthen and stabilize the environments that these children are in can make a big difference. Some specific examples that the CDC gives for doing this are strengthening family economic supports, educating families on how to be healthier, promoting healthier social norms, early prevention and support programs, mentoring and support programs for children, and treatment interventions for all family members. Even doing something as simple as raising awareness to the existence of ACEs and the impact they have can be preventative ("Fast facts: Preventing adverse childhood experiences," 2022).

What is their impact?

A doctor gave a TED talk about this topic, and she posits that adverse childhood experiences are a medical concern because of how much they increase the chances of people having physical health problems throughout their lifespan. The doctor began working in the pediatric setting and was getting referrals for children with mental health issues. She could not make a full diagnosis but could tell that there was something deeper going on leading to the symptoms. She was introduced to the ACE questionnaire and the research that has been done and found that there is a correlation between exposure to adverse childhood experiences and poor health outcomes in the lifespan, even when they controlled for factors such as diet and habits that some would assume to be confounding in that research. Exposure to these adverse experiences impacts the pleasure and reward center in the brain, and can have effects on the immune system, hormonal systems, and other parts of the brain. The speaker states that this is a public health crisis because of how big of an impact these adverse experiences can have on health (Harris, 2014).

If you would like to see the whole talk, visit


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