Adverse Childhood Experiences Part Two: Consequences of ACES

In my last post I took the time to define what exactly is considered an adverse childhood experience. In sum, violence, abuse, substance use, mental health, suicide, imprisonment, and general instability in the home are the main contributing factors that cause major distress and impairment in typical development. To better underscore the impact that these experiences and traumatic events have on one’s development, in this post I will be sharing with you the consequences of ACES.

The CDC has collected enough data through their ACES studies and those alike to generalize their findings and their impacts. The CDC has broken the consequences of ACES on a person into three categories; health, wellbeing, and opportunities. To be able to categorize detriments into these three categories demonstrates the wide impact that these traumatic experiences can have on an individual. That is why although this topic can be difficult, it remains important to discuss in order to better the wellbeing of individuals who have been subjected to these acts.

Health: injury, STI/STDs, pregnancy and chronic diseases, brain development, decision making, and difficulties with attention.

Wellbeing: relational problems, sex trafficking, prolonged exposure to toxic stress, and depression and other mental health concerns

Opportunities: poverty, academics, careers, finances

To further discuss the impact of ACEs lets discuss the prevalence. To demonstrate the changes over the course of time I will provide with you the data from both the original ACEs study from 1995-1997 relative to the data found in Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System ACE Data from 2011-2014.

Traumatic Experience CDC-Kaiser BRFSS
Abuse 59.6 63.9
Household Challenges 87.0 97.1
Neglect 24.7 Not tested
ACES CDC-Kaiser 95-97 BRFSS 2011-2014
0 36.1 38.5
1 26.0 23.5
2 15.9 13.4
3 8.8 9.5
4 15.8 12.5




The data above is based on percentages of the participants of each study. You may look and initially see that the majority appear to have experienced no ACEs which may lead you to think this isn’t such a big deal, but it is. Not even half of the participants in either study was free from experiencing these traumatic events. From there, it appears that many people have one or more ACEs. Though the numbers dropped over the years I would be interested to see the data to date. An important consideration is that given the gap in years that this data was collected, participants come from different generations and cultural norms. We discussed this in the last post that due to cultural and societal norms different behaviors, consequences, and perspectives have been held over time that were more accepting of the presence of these behaviors and experiences. The changes we see are hopefully more attributable to the decrease in engagement in such behaviors and experiences, but it would be naïve to believe that is the only reason. Further curiosity and research can tell you more about attributable factors and can provide insights into the changes in prevalence.

Now let’s take a look at how the consequences of ACEs present themselves within those affected by these experiences’ comparative to those without the experiences.

1 ACE 2x more likely to be an alcoholic

1.5x more likely to experience depression in a year

1.7x more likely to use illicit drugs

1.2x more likely to get cancer

1.8x more likely to attempt suicide

2 ACEs 4x more likely to be an alcoholic

2.4x more likely to experience depression in a year

2.9x more likely to use illicit drugs

3x more likely to attempt suicide

3 ACEs 4.9x more likely to be an alcoholic

3.6x more likely to use illicit drugs

6.6x more likely to attempt suicide

4 ACEs 7.4x more likely to be an alcoholic

4.6x more likely to experience depression in a year

4.7x more likely to use illicit drugs

12.2x more likely to attempt suicide

5+ ACEs Die nearly 20 years earlier than those without ACEs


These specific findings were the most alarming to me. The reason being, someone could tell me that they struggled with the divorce of their parents at a young age and that impacted the relationships they had moving forward. Simple enough right? No, because now that person according to the CDC’s findings, is almost twice as likely to develop alcoholism, depression, drug use, cancer, and attempt suicide. There are many more considerations now when we reflect on and process the trauma that people have experienced in their life. We have to look at the potential future possibilities and learn to recognize warning signs in order to protect individuals from the development of these consequences. Being honest and realistic about what we know now will be key in working to protect and prevent future traumatic events in these and unharmed individuals.

To learn more about the consequences of ACEs and the data that has supported this blog check out this Ted Talk from pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris. Her talk is what piqued my interest in this topic and findings. It is a beneficial video for parents specifically but all individuals as we all play a part in the development of someone else’s life through these experiences.

Follow into our last post which will cover prevention of ACEs. Again, I recognize that this can be a difficult topic to discuss so if you or a loved one wants to seek help in processing anything coming up for you in these blogs please feel free to reach out to Olive Branch Counseling Associates to get set up with a therapist 708-633-800

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