Start the Admissions Process Online

Fill out your information to receive a free, confidential call from the team at All Points North.

OR CALL US at
0207 193 1128


Unraveling Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Scores: Impact, Significance, and Healing

Written by Samantha Carter

You may have heard of ACEs, but might not be fully aware of their meaning, implications, or impact. Understanding adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) – events or circumstances that disrupt a child’s sense of safety, stability, and overall wellbeing – is paramount to navigating mental health as an adult. While these experiences may literally be behind us, they tend to stick with us until we fully heal and integrate our painful memories.

ACEs are the result of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, as well as household dysfunction, substance use, mental illness, and parental separation. Adverse childhood experiences have been extensively studied for their profound influence on mental and physical health outcomes later in life.

By learning more about ACE scores, their significance in research, their overall impact on mental health, and strategies for healing, we can begin to step into deeper levels of understanding. By acknowledging and showing up for our inner child, we can start to reparent ourselves as adults and tend to wounds that may desperately need our attention.

Of course, as with all mental health work, walking this path alongside a trained professional can provide immense relief and support. With the help of a licensed therapist, we can more safely process our ACEs while moving forward on our journey to wellness.

Understanding ACE Scores

Studies done by the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that approximately 29.8% of mental health disorders are caused by ACEs, making this an important topic of conversation in the mental health field. But, what exactly are the specific criteria that make up ACEs?

The ACE quiz is a simple questionnaire that anyone can take. You can find this quiz online as it is listed below.

  1. Did you feel that you didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, or had no one to protect or take care of you?
  2. Did you lose a parent through divorce, abandonment, death, or other reasons?
  3. Did you live with anyone who was depressed, mentally ill, or attempted suicide?
  4. Did you live with anyone who had a problem with drinking or using drugs, including prescription drugs?
  5. Did your parents or adults in your home ever hit, punch, beat, or threaten to harm each other?
  6. Did you live with anyone who went to jail or prison?
  7. Did a parent or adult in your home ever swear at you, insult you, or put you down?
  8. Did a parent or adult in your home ever hit, beat, kick, or physically hurt you in any way?
  9. Did you feel that no one in your family loved you or thought you were special?
  10. Did you experience unwanted sexual contact (such as fondling or oral/anal/vaginal intercourse/penetration)?

By totaling the amount of questions you answered yes to, you have your “ACE score.” As you can probably imagine, the higher one’s ACE score, the more likely they are to experience problems later in life.

Significance in Research and Mental Health

Research has shown a strong correlation between ACE scores and negative health outcomes. The landmark Adverse Childhood Experiences Study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente found that higher ACE scores are associated with an increased risk of physical and mental health problems, including chronic diseases, mental health disorders, substance abuse, and even premature death.

Individuals with higher ACE scores are more likely to experience:

  • Mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Physical health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and autoimmune disorders.
  • Substance abuse and addiction.
  • Relationship difficulties and social problems.
  • Lower academic achievement and employment instability.

Understanding if ACEs Apply to You

To determine if ACEs apply to you, it’s essential to reflect on your own childhood experiences and assess whether you have encountered any adverse events or circumstances. Often, we aren’t even aware of how impactful these experiences are until we have a safe space to process them later in life.

As children, suppressing these experiences is a natural way to cope with and survive adversity. However, continuing to reject these issues as adults can have numerous consequences for our overall health and well-being.

Because answering the ACE questionnaire can be extremely triggering and painful, it can be helpful to process these narratives with a trained professional. A licensed therapist can help you better understand and heal from your unique experiences and/or wounds.

Data on the Impact of ACE Scores

Studies have consistently demonstrated the profound impact of ACE scores on mental and physical health outcomes. According to the CDC-Kaiser ACE Study, individuals with higher ACE scores are more likely to experience a range of negative health outcomes, including:

  • Individuals with an ACE score of four or more are more likely to develop heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic health conditions.
  • Those with higher ACE scores have an increased risk of mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
  • ACEs are associated with higher rates of substance abuse and addiction.
  • Higher ACE scores are linked to lower life expectancy and increased mortality rates.

While it can feel overwhelming and scary to learn about these findings, know that it is possible to beat the odds with effective intervention.

Healing from ACEs

While ACEs can have profound and lasting effects on an individual’s health and well-being, healing is achievable with the right support. The following strategies can be immensely impactful when processing complex childhood trauma.

Seek Professional Help

Consider seeking therapy or counseling from a qualified mental health professional who specializes in trauma-informed care. Therapy can provide a safe and supportive environment to explore past traumas, process difficult emotions, and develop coping skills to manage the effects of ACEs. Additionally, a psychiatrist may be able to help you determine if medication management is an appropriate option given your unique challenges and mental health needs.

Practice Self-Care

Engage in self-care practices that promote physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing. This may include regular exercise, healthy eating, adequate sleep, mindfulness meditation, and spending time in nature. Practicing good self-care also means letting go of other activities that detract from your healing process, such as substance abuse, negative self-talk, or spending time around people that make you feel bad.

Build Supportive Relationships

Surround yourself with supportive friends, family members, or community networks who can offer encouragement, understanding, and empathy. Building strong social connections can help buffer the negative effects of ACEs and foster resilience. It’s also important to remember that building strong relationships may require ACE victims to seek support outside of their familial ties, as these relationships may or may not still be inflicting harmful patterns.

Alternative Therapies for ACE Trauma Healing

While the previously mentioned interventions are great strategies, it’s important to remember that trauma healing work doesn’t come with a standardized manual. Because our trauma is unique to us, so too are our treatment needs. Luckily, there are many alternative therapies to try when traditional and lifestyle interventions aren’t enough. The following treatments can also be considered when working through healing from ACEs.

Explore Holistic Healing Modalities

Consider exploring holistic healing modalities such as yoga, acupuncture, art therapy, or mindfulness-based practices. These complementary approaches can accompany traditional therapy and support the healing process on a deeper level.

Ketamine-Assisted Healing

Low-dose ketamine has gained recognition for its transformative effects on traditional treatment-resistant depression. Additionally, numerous studies have shown ketamine’s ability to effectively treat PTSD, a common condition of trauma victims.

Many people have shared their ketamine healing stories, including one medical professional who used it to integrate her own adverse childhood experiences and provide her patients with better care.

Within the brain, ketamine triggers a cascade of neurobiological including:

  • Positive changes in neurochemistry
  • Increased neuroplasticity
  • Enhanced mood regulation

Additionally, the results of this treatment often manifest within hours to days, whereas conventional treatments may take weeks or even months.

Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (Deep TMS) is a non-invasive technology that can bring life-changing relief from various mind-body conditions, even if you have not seen results with medication in the past. Each session lasts about 20 minutes with no recovery time needed, making it an excellent treatment option with minimal side effects.

Research indicates that deep TMS may induce changes in neural circuits associated with mood regulation, leading to sustained improvements in mental health symptoms. Deep TMS has also been studied in PTSD victims, making it an appropriate intervention for sufferers of childhood trauma.

Mental Health and Trauma Day Programme

For various reasons, sometimes we need a jumpstart to our trauma-healing process. That’s when things like mental health and trauma day programmes can really help. Led by licensed therapists with group and individual therapy options up to 10 hours per week, this added support can help trauma victims gain quicker traction with their healing goals.

Healing ACEs – A Journey of Empowerment

Adverse childhood experiences can have a profound impact on an individual’s health and well-being, shaping their physical and mental health outcomes throughout their lives. Understanding ACE scores and their significance in research and the mental health field is essential for recognizing the effects of childhood trauma and implementing strategies for lasting change.

By seeking support, practicing self-care, and exploring holistic healing modalities, individuals can embark on a journey of empowerment. By reclaiming our lives, we can create brighter futures and finally be free from the shadows of the past.

Healing from ACEs at All Points North London

If you’re looking for assistance with understanding and healing from ACEs, All Points North London offers multiple traditional and alternative treatment options to help you gain clarity and control over your life. From talk therapy to medication management to alternative interventions like ketamine-assisted healing, deep TMS, and trauma day programmes, APN is here for you through it all.

Struggling with the effects of ACEs is no joke. Know that you’re not alone and that healing is possible. Reach out to a qualified mental health professional who can provide the support and guidance needed to navigate your journey. Whether through traditional treatment options, alternative healing modalities, or a combination of both, there are numerous resources to help you thrive. If you’re interested in learning more about APN London call 0203 984 7699 or complete the online contact form today.

References

  • “About the CDC-Kaiser Ace Study |Violence Prevention|injury Center|CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6 Apr. 2021, www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/aces/about.html#:~:text=The%20CDC%2DKaiser%20Permanente%20adverse,life%20health%20and%20well%2Dbeing.
  • “Adverse Childhood Experiences (Aces).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 June 2023, www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/aces/index.html.
  • “Adverse Childhood Experiences: National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Center.” Adverse Childhood Experiences | National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Center, nhttac.acf.hhs.gov/soar/eguide/stop/adverse_childhood_experiences. Accessed 3 Mar. 2024.
  • Ionescu, Dawn F et al. “Ketamine-Associated Brain Changes: A Review of the Neuroimaging Literature.” Harvard review of psychiatry vol. 26,6 (2018): 320-339. doi:10.1097/HRP.0000000000000179
  • Kessler, Ronald C et al. “Childhood adversities and adult psychopathology in the WHO World Mental Health Surveys.” The British journal of psychiatry : the journal of mental science vol. 197,5 (2010): 378-85. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.110.080499
  • Levkovitz, Yechiel et al. “Deep transcranial magnetic stimulation over the prefrontal cortex: evaluation of antidepressant and cognitive effects in depressive patients.” Brain stimulation vol. 2,4 (2009): 188-200. doi:10.1016/j.brs.2009.08.002
  • Petrosino, Nicholas J et al. “Transcranial magnetic stimulation for post-traumatic stress disorder.” Therapeutic advances in psychopharmacology vol. 11 20451253211049921. 28 Oct. 2021, doi:10.1177/20451253211049921
  • Ragnhildstveit, Anya et al. “The potential of ketamine for posttraumatic stress disorder: a review of clinical evidence.” Therapeutic advances in psychopharmacology vol. 13 20451253231154125. 6 Mar. 2023, doi:10.1177/20451253231154125
  • “What Are Aces? And How Do They Relate to Toxic Stress?” Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, 30 Oct. 2020, developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/aces-and-toxic-stress-frequently-asked-questions/.
  • “What Is Trauma-Informed Care? – Trauma-Informed Care Implementation Resource Center.” Trauma, 7 July 2022, www.traumainformedcare.chcs.org/what-is-trauma-informed-care/.