Understanding Childhood Trauma and ACEs

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are stressful or traumatic events, including abuse and neglect. They may also include household dysfunction such as witnessing domestic violence or growing up with family members who have substance use disorders. ACEs are strongly related to the development and prevalence of a wide range of health problems throughout a person’s lifespan, including those associated with substance misuse.

ACEs include:

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

If a child has reactions that impact his/her daily life after a traumatic event, these responses are called child traumatic stress. These reactions may show up in different ways, such as changes in behavior (being irritable, withdrawn, or acting younger than his/her age), difficulties in interactions with others, problems or changes in sleeping or eating patterns, and/or school performance. 

When these stress symptoms develop, they happen automatically (i.e., are not in the child’s conscious control) as the child attempts to manage negative emotions (like fear) that emerge in response to memories of the event. The difficulties or stress symptoms can present immediately or show up later. They may also continue for days, weeks, or months after the traumatic experience and/or may resurface at different periods throughout a young person’s life. 

Learn more about childhood trauma and ACEs here and help us increase recognition that when children or young adults “act out” such actions likely stems from trauma. Childhood trauma is not an excuse for self-destructive behaviors, but an explanation which will hopefully prompt further calls for rehabilitation as opposed to punishment.