The impact of child abuse or maltreatment is not confined to behaviour, IQ, educational achievement and success at work. It also has a profound impact on both physical and mental health outcomes, including addictions.
This has been potently highlighted in a long-term study of what the authors call Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs, see list below). This study of 17,000 middle-aged, middle-class Americans showed that early traumatic life experience impacts hugely on later well-being, social function, health risks, disease burden, healthcare costs and life expectancy.
This research (by medical doctors) found a powerful and consistent relationship between extent of adverse childhood experiences and later outcomes. For example, the 16% of the population who have suffered four or more categories of ACE, compared with people who have experienced none, had:
- twice the level of liver disease,
- 3 times the levels of lung disease, depression and adult smoking, were
- 4 times as likely to have begun intercourse by age 15, had
- 6 times the level of alcohol abuse,
- 11 times the level of intravenous drug abuse, and had made
- 14 times the number of suicide attempts.
The study concluded that:
all told, it is clear that adverse childhood experiences have a profound, proportionate, and long-lasting effect on well-being
whether this wellbeing was measured by depression or suicide attempts, by protective unconscious devices such as overeating and even amnesia, or by what the doctors refer to as ‘self-help attempts’ (the use of street drugs or alcohol to modulate feelings).
Details can be seen in the Publications section.
The Adverse Childhood Experiences were:
- Emotional abuse
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Physical neglect
- Emotional neglect
- Alcoholic in household
- Drug user in household
- Witnessed domestic violence
- Reared in home without both biological parents