Overcoming adverse childhood experiences

Published: Thursday, February 9, 2023
Family Medicine Resident, PGY-1

Understanding & addressing the impact on personal health

What are adverse childhood experiences?

Adverse childhood experiences, also known as ACEs, are events that occur during childhood and can have a negative impact on a person’s physical, emotional, and mental health. These events may include physical, sexual, or emotional abuse; neglect; witnessing violence; challenges caused by household members suffering from mental illness or substance abuse; or absence of a caregiver due to divorce/separation or incarceration. If you are still dealing with the effects of a past ACE, please know that help is available and that healing is possible.

What are the effects of adverse childhood experiences?

Studies have shown that 61% of adults in the United States experienced an ACE at least one time, and more than 24% of adults experienced at least four or more ACEs. In the state of Georgia, 58% of adults have experienced at least one ACE. In other words, every other person you meet at a local grocery store has experienced an ACE. These studies collectively have found a link between ACEs and negative health outcomes in adulthood such as the following:

  • Mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Physical health problems such as heart disease, cancer, and stroke
  • Substance abuse
  • Increased likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors such as smoking, having an unhealthy diet, and physical inactivity

How can your doctor help?

Address your ACEs with your doctor. Understandably, these events may be uncomfortable or even triggering. However, it is important to have open communication with your doctor about your health concerns, including any specific needs or preferences you may have. Your doctor can offer valuable resources and help you determine the most suitable ones based on your unique situation.

Resources that may be discussed with your doctor include:

  • Support groups.
    These provide a sense of community and the opportunity to share your experiences with others who are going through similar challenges.
  • Self-help techniques.
    These can include relaxation, mindfulness, and stress management techniques to help you cope with difficult emotions.
  • Therapies.
    Therapies can include cognitive behavioral therapy, talk therapy, and other forms of counseling. Therapy helps you manage your symptoms and improve mental well-being.
  • Medications.
    Your doctor may recommend medications to help manage certain symptoms or conditions. These may include antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications.

Once your doctor provides some of these options, ask any questions you may have such as cost or accessibility, and voice any concerns if you feel that certain resources may not be a good fit. Lastly, your support requirements may vary as your needs evolve over time. Continuous communication with your doctor is key.

Additional Resources & Next Steps

Adverse childhood experiences can negatively affect one’s mental and physical health. Utilizing the right resources can help you manage the negative effects of ACEs. If you identify with this article, it may be an opportune time for you to speak with your doctor.