What are Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)? 

Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood (Ages 0-17), such as neglect and experiencing or witnessing violence. ACEs can cause Toxic Stress and have lasting effects on physical health and mental well-being into adulthood.

The CDC-Kaiser Permanente adverse childhood experiences (ACE) study between 1995 to 1997 identified ACEs. The ACE study incorporated data from more than 17,000 individuals. This study is one of the most extensive investigations of childhood abuse, neglect, family dysfunction, and health and well-being later in life. 

The Impact of ACEs

Some individuals are more likely to have experienced ACEs than others. For example, marginalized populations and impoverished individuals are more likely to receive and accumulate ACEs, which increases the likelihood of experiencing “toxic stress.” 

Toxic Stress is unresolved stress that begins in childhood. Children are incapable of managing and resolving stress without having a safe caregiver and a safe home environment. This stress response continues into adulthood and can result in several mental and physical outcomes:

  • Constantly feeling anxious or overwhelmed
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Upset stomach & Symptoms of IBS
  • Poor sleep or insomnia
  • Physical pain or discomfort (headaches, muscle aches, soreness)
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Trouble regulating emotions
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Poor concentration and memory

Additionally, studies show that higher numbers of ACEs are associated with many of the leading causes of death for adults, such as cancer and heart disease.

Prevention and Intervention

The creation of healthy childhood experiences can prevent ACEs. Examples of prevention can include: 

  • Educating others on the subject
  • Promoting non-violent social norms
  • Providing paid time off and shorter workweeks for parents 
  • Teaching healthy relationship skills

If you are an adult and suspect you are struggling with toxic stress due to ACEs, you can intervene to lessen immediate and long-term harm through education, trauma therapy such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and working with a trauma-informed therapist.

Are you struggling with unresolved childhood traumatic experiences and toxic stress? 

At Heartland Therapy Connection, we specialize in trauma treatment. We will help you better understand the impact of trauma and the treatments available to help you. Book an appointment or a free 15-minute consultation here!


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