When treatment tactics are implemented with individuals struggling with substance misuse including alcohol and drugs, professionals cannot ignore addressing underlying issues. One reoccurring theme linked to addictive behaviors or the misuse of substances is Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). ACEs have many distinct parts that can influence an individual for years to come.

ACEs fall into two main categories, personal and related to other family members. Personal factors include physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect. Relating to the individual’s family, it could be things such as: a parent who is an alcoholic, a mother who is a victim of domestic violence, a family member in jail, a family member diagnosed with a mental illness, or the disappearance of a parent through divorce, death or abandonment.

When professionals have studied ACEs, they developed a way to measure the severity of a child’s exposure. The determined score is compiled by adding a point for each situation the child is exposed to. This means a child can receive different points based on life experiences in childhood, for example, if they experience verbal abuse or another point if a family member has an addiction. A study conducted by the Center for Disease Control from 1995 to 1997 with Kaiser Permanente included 1,700 participants and looked at the effect of ACEs. This study revealed that a higher ACEs score correlates with adult misuse of substances, disease, and other health concerns like depression. The study also revealed that with each additional ACE point, the likelihood of an individual misusing prescription drugs almost doubles.

Children exposed to stressful situations repeatedly can have damage in their neurological development. This damage may become apparent as the child grows through their inability to cope with stressful situations or relying on negative coping mechanisms.

Although there have been reports of children who are exposed to a high number of ACEs and have little to no differences in their ability to cope as an adult, it is not as prevalent. Many Teachers, or professionals who may be the first to view negative consequences of ACEs may wrongly assume anger manifestations as ADD.

Be aware that substance misuse affects more than just the individual misusing and could cause children in that family to have more struggles as they get older. The best way to help someone who is exhibiting these symptoms is by building close, positive relationships through the child’s life. These positive influences and help the child understand positive coping mechanisms, build resiliency and have a support system if things seem to not be going well.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, call the Tennessee REDLINE at 1-800-889-9789 to receive free assistance on how to live a healthier life for you and your family. If you’re interested in learning more about ACEs and to find out what your own ACEs score is, visit https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/index.html