by Dr. Van H. Dunn, Chief Medical Officer

You may not have heard the term “adverse childhood experiences,” or ACEs, but you may know someone who is struggling with its effects. ACEs are stressful or upsetting events that occur before the age of 17. They can include being bullied at school, witnessing violence or growing up with a family member who has a substance abuse disorder.

Unfortunately, ACEs are all too common. A 2012 National Survey of Children’s Health found that nearly half of the children in the U.S. have experienced one or more serious childhood traumas. Even more troubling, ACEs can lead to a wide range of health problems well into a person’s adult life, including addiction, depression, smoking and other risky behaviors.

What is an Adverse Childhood Experience?

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are traumatic experiences that affect children before the age of 17, and can include any of the following:

  • Physical, sexual or emotional abuse
  • Physical or emotional neglect
  • Domestic violence
  • Substance abuse by a family member
  • Living with a family member with mental illness
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • Living in a home with a household member who is incarcerated

ACEs can affect anyone, no matter how happy they may look or how “normal” they may seem. You or someone you know may be suffering from ACEs and not even realize it. Here are some warning signs to watch out for:

  • Engaging in harmful behaviors, such as drug and alcohol abuse
  • Lost of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Irritability, angry outbursts
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Frequent headaches or stomachaches
  • Difficulty relating to friends, family or co-workers
  • Negative feelings about yourself or others
  • Difficulty handling emotions and stressful situations
  • Nightmares or night terrors
  • Fears about death
  • Persistent worry or sadness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Inability to trust others
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