Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) are “potentially traumatizing events that occur during childhood and adolescence.” ACE can include neglect, abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual), household dysfunction (such as witnessing domestic violence or having a parent with mental illness), and poverty. Studies have shown that ACE is linked to many health problems in adulthood, and people who have experienced more ACE are more likely to develop substance use disorder (SUD) than those who have not experienced ACE.
What Is an ACE Score?
ACE is a well-documented risk factor for SUD. ACE is stressful or traumatic experiences during childhood, including exposure to violence, trauma, or substance abuse in the home. Individuals who have experienced more ACE are more likely to develop a SUD later in life.
These risk factors are measured using the ACE score, a scale that rates the number and severity of a person’s adverse experiences. The higher someone’s ACE score, the greater their risk of developing a SUD. Studies have shown that individuals with an ACE score of 4 or higher are nearly five times more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder and almost 12 times more likely to inject drugs than those with an ACE score of 0.
You can find a free ACE quiz by googling “ACE Score.”
What Is the Link to Chronic Stress?
There is a correlation between ACE scores and trouble managing stress later in life. For example, individuals with a high ACE score are more likely to experience health problems such as high blood pressure and anxiety and often have difficulty coping with stressful situations.
While the exact mechanisms behind this association are not fully understood, it is thought that early exposure to traumatic events can lead to changes in the brain that make it challenging to manage stress later in life.
Trouble With Relationships?
A high ACE score is associated with many adverse outcomes in adulthood, including trouble with relationships. Individuals with high ACE scores are more likely to experience conflict in their relationships and have difficulty maintaining healthy and supportive relationships. They may also find it difficult to trust others and may be more prone to jealousy and possessiveness.
High scores are associated with greater levels of anxiety and depression, which can further complicate interpersonal relationships. This difficulty in forming and maintaining healthy relationships limits their access to connection, a vital part of mental wellness.
What Is the Connection Between ACE and SUD?
A high ACE score is associated with a greater risk of developing a substance use disorder. This is because individuals who have experienced multiple forms of adversity are more likely to turn to substances to cope with their trauma. In addition, a high ACE score is also associated with poor mental health and increased stress levels, both of which can contribute to substance abuse.
Adverse experiences in childhood can lead to chronic stress, which can alter brain development and make individuals more susceptible to substance use and other maladaptive coping mechanisms. ACE can make it difficult for individuals to cope with stress in healthy ways, leading them to turn to substances as a way to self-medicate. In addition, as noted above, individuals who have experienced ACE often have trouble with relationships, increasing their isolation and making them more likely to turn to substances.
Do You Need Trauma Treatment?
ACE scores indicate unresolved trauma, which may be the underlying motivation for substance use. Trauma is often unspoken and unseen. It can result from a single event or the accumulation of several smaller events over time. Regardless of its cause, trauma can have a profound and lasting impact on your mental and emotional health. If you’re struggling to cope with the aftermath of a traumatic experience, it may be time to seek professional help. Here are some signs that you may benefit from trauma treatment:
- You feel numb or disconnected from your emotions
- You find it difficult to trust other people
- You’re constantly on edge, feeling like you must always be on guard
- You have difficulty concentrating or focusing on tasks
- You’re easily startled or easily irritated
- You avoid activities or places that remind you of the trauma
- You struggle with anxiety, depression, substance use, or other mental health issues
If any of these sound familiar, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. A trained therapist can provide the tools you need to heal the wounds of trauma and move on with your life.
Remember, Everyone Is Different
While research indicates that high ACE score individuals are more likely to develop SUD later in life, this is not a foregone conclusion. Trauma affects individuals in different ways, so that some high ACE score individuals may be more resilient to the effects of trauma than others. In addition, it’s important to remember that high ACE scores don’t necessarily mean an individual will develop SUD; many other factors contribute to SUD’s development. However, high ACE scores indicate that an individual is at increased risk for issues later in life, so it’s essential to be aware of this risk factor and take steps to reduce the likelihood of developing problematic use issues.
Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACE, are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood. ACE can include violence, abuse, chronic neglect, and growing up in a family with mental health or substance use problems. Toxic stress from ACE can change brain development and affect how the body responds to the environment. High ACE scores are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance misuse in adulthood. However, these outcomes can be prevented. Various interventions are effective in preventing or mitigating the effects of ACE, including home visiting, early childhood education, and parenting programs. Additionally, policies and practices that support families and strengthen communities can help to create an environment that is protective against ACE. Finally, understanding the link between ACE and adult mental health can target treatment programs focusing on healing trauma and promoting resilience. Call Restoration Recovery Center at (888) 290-0925 for help.