Monday, October 8, 2012

ACE (Adverse Childhood Events): The Most Important Trauma Study You’ve Never Heard About

In order to understand why his obesity patients were dropping out of a successful weight loss program, Dr. Vincent Felitti dived into their medical records and interviews for clues. What he found launched a several year study that has enrolled more than 17,000 people. These patients were talking about incest, abuse and neglect, extreme adversity in their childhoods.

The Centers for Disease Control and Dr. Felitti with Kaiser Permanente launched a study to look at adverse childhood events and their effect on health and longevity over the lifespan.

What is an adverse childhood event? For the purposes of the study it is:

- sexual abuse
- physical abuse
- emotional abuse
- physical neglect
- emotional neglect
- a home where the mother was treated violently
- substance abuse in the home
- mental illness in the home
- parental separation or divorce
- one or more parents imprisoned

Count up the categories that apply to you. That gives you your ACE score. Anything above 4 predisposes people to substance abuse, dysfunction and health issues among other things. People with the highest scores died on average 20 years earlier than people with low ACE scores. (For more information about the mechanisms of these effects see my earlier blog posts on the HPA Axis.)

You can check out more information about the study here. Highly recommended reading for everyone: those of us who suffered difficult childhoods, caregivers, treaters and public policy setters.

This can feel overwhelming as we delve into the truth. The good news is that we are beginning to finally come to terms with the widespread effects of trauma and PTSD and the need to heal from it!


  1. I like this blog so much same as the post of trauma expert ny, keep it up!

  2. Great blog! I found your site from a writer's group at LinkedIn. I'm interested in some aspects of PTSD. And maybe how writing can help.

    My 10 year old daughter and I witnessed a drunk driving accident back in January of this year. The truck passed us, going about a 100 and when we turned the next curve, it had flipped. It sounds horrible, but I wish I had stayed in the car and call 911. But I got out to help, didn't shut my door, the other driver's bloody dog jumped in my car, so my daughter got out. She found the dead passenger that had been thrown from the truck into the ditch.

    I've taken her to a couple different counselors, one with the church and one with the school, both who she had relationships with and trusted. She clammed up as soon as they tried to get her to talk about it. She seems OK, I'm just so scared that something will cause her to break down if we don't deal with it. The drunk driver lives down the road from us and he is out on bail...he only spent an hour in jail. (And that starts MY issues! Ugg!) I'm always wondering if today is the day that we'll run into him at the grocery store or whatever.

    Anyways, if you ever blog about children and PTSD again, ways for them to cope and express themselves, I'd love to reblog it. You can find me at And thanks for listening!!

  3. Thanks, Michelle! I think writing can be tremendously helpful to process trauma! As for your daughter, perhaps verbal processing is not what she needs. You might consider EMDR or art therapy for her. Sand tray sessions can also be miraculous with traumatized kids. I will definitely blog on this! Blessings! Sue