Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

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What are Adverse Childhood Experiences?

The notion of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) stemmed from an in-depth study which demonstrated the correlation between early childhood trauma and health and social problems as an adult. This means that dysfunctional behaviors modeled during childhood can cast inescapable shadows on future behaviors. In order to move beyond destructive behavior patterns, it is important to understand how those behaviors developed in the first place.

If you are the parent of a teenager who is exhibiting destructive behavior – such as drug abuse or alcohol abuse – it is highly recommended that you seek the help of trained mental health professionals in diagnosing and treating the underlying causes. Negative behaviors are usually rooted in underlying causes related to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

ACEs are stressful events and household dysfunctions that take place during childhood. According to SAMHSA some examples of Adverse Childhood Experiences include:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Mother treated violently
  • Substance misuse within household
  • Household mental illness
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • Incarcerated household member

Traumatic experiences during childhood (and the negative consequences) know no bounds – affecting people of all races, creeds, and socioeconomic backgrounds. We are all imperfect and trying to do the best we can with what we have. When diagnosing the underlying traumas your teenager may have suffered during childhood, it is necessary to take ownership of any part you as a parent may have played.

Neglecting ownership makes the healing process more difficult. These behaviors are deeply correlated with patterns, so the sooner the underlying issues are diagnosed and treated the better.

A landmark study revealed that Adverse Childhood Experiences are strongly linked to:
  • Risky health behaviors
  • Chronic health conditions
  • Low life potential
  • Early death


The ACE’s study also revealed that:
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences are common. About 28% of those who participated in the study reported physical abuse, with 21% reporting sexual abuse. In many cases, the participants reported experiencing a divorce or having a parent with a mental health and/or substance use disorder.
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences co-occur. ACEs are rarely isolated. The study revealed that 40% of participants had two or more ACEs and 12.5% experienced four or more. There tends to be a snowball effect when dealing with ACEs.
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences are closely related to many health problems. Additionally, there is a strong correlation between drug abuse and alcohol abuse. The nature of mental health is that conditions often co-occur with other conditions.
  • High likelihood of drug and alcohol abuse at an early age. ACEs are a large contributing factor in the early adoption of drug and alcohol abuse and. This can be curbed by addressing the stressors that led to the unhealthy coping mechanisms.
  • Increased risk of mental disorders as an older adult. If ACEs are not properly identified and treated, there is a higher risk of developing mental health and substance use disorders later in life.



To prevent the health and social consequences associated with Adverse Childhood Experiences it is necessary to address the problem as soon as possible. Negative coping mechanisms develop at an early age. Don’t let your teenager fall deeper into a rut that could haunt them for the rest of their life. The long-term effects of ACEs can be detrimental. Seek the help of trained professionals in order to diagnose and treat any potential ACEs. Here is an excellent resource from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention on developing and nurturing healthy relationships with your children.

Family First Adolescent Services specializes in treating teens who suffer from drug addiction, alcohol addiction, mood disorders, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Our treatment plans offer solutions for the whole family.

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