How ACES Affect Your Adulthood

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Can a stressful or traumatizing childhood affect you as an adult? Unfortunately, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) show a correlation with physical and mental illness into adulthood.

The term “ACEs” comes from the CDC’s Kaiser ACE Study. This groundbreaking public health study, published in 1998, discovered that childhood trauma leads to the adult onset of chronic diseases, depression or other mental illnesses, violence and being a victim of violence. Since then, the CDC has continued its research on how childhood trauma impacts adults and our society, learning more about its long-term effects.

During our developmental years, we depend on our family and those around us to provide a safe, loving, and supportive environment. When severely stressful or traumatic events are experienced before the age of 18, it takes a toll on our emotional, mental and physical well-being. Events causing significant trauma include:

  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Alcohol and/or drug abuser in the household
  • An incarcerated household member
  • Someone in the household who is chronically depressed, mentally ill, institutionalized or suicidal
  • Mother is treated violently
  • Parents are separated or divorced
  • Emotional neglect
  • Physical neglect


ACEs are common. The study found that nearly two-thirds (64%) of adults have at least one. The study also found that ACEs usually don’t occur alone. 87% of adults that indicated they had ACEs had two or more. While ACEs do not guarantee poor outcomes for adults, they may increase the odds of more health and social problems experienced as an adult.

ACEs have been linked to low self-esteem, chronic pain and disease, harmful behaviors (such as eating disorders, substance abuse and suicide attempts), relationship challenges and emotional difficulties. In the workplace, ACEs are responsible for increased absenteeism, as well as higher costs in health care, crisis response, mental health and criminal justice.

Resiliency, or the ability to bounce back quickly from difficulties and recover from adversity, can help individuals overcome the negative effects from ACEs. Resiliency is built through the support of relationships, identifying and cultivating a sense of purpose, and focusing on your social and emotional health.
Movements within mental health, primary health care and education are shifting their focus from a “what’s wrong with you” approach to a “what happened to you” approach, recognizing the presence of trauma symptoms and acknowledging the role ACEs have played in someone’s life. Mental health professionals are trained to understand ACEs long-term effects on adults, and can give you the help and support you need to recover.

For more information on ACEs or to seek help managing its emotional, social or physical effects, contact EFR’s Employee Assistance Program. Learn more by logging into your employee portal at

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