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Child abuse or maltreatment also has long-term consequences for mental and physical health

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