It’s a fact of life that our experiences in childhood shape who we are in adulthood. While there are many aspects of our lives that we are able to choose, there are also factors that have been out of our control since we were born.
One of the factors most out of our control is whether we’ve undergone experiences of trauma during childhood. Living through terrifying events at an early age has been shown to affect outcomes years or decades down the road.
If you’ve ever wondered “how does childhood trauma affect adulthood?” Here’s what you need to know.
What is trauma?
The American Psychological Association defines trauma as a terrifying event that results in a prolonged emotional response. These events include:
- Natural disasters
- Sexual assault
- Experiences of violence
- Car accidents
- Combat experiences
- Terrorist attacks
- And more
Trauma can occur if the event happens to you, or you witness the event happening. While some traumatic experiences are only experienced once, other traumas are endured multiple times.
Childhood trauma can occur at any time under the age of 18. Terrifying events that occur before the age of six are considered early childhood trauma according to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.
How is trauma measured?
Childhood trauma is most often measured by a tool called Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs. This test is used widely across the United States and has been extensively studied. ACEs are potentially traumatic events experienced in childhood and they are generally predictive of future outcomes.
ACEs measure emotional and physical stability, security and safety as a child grows up. Unfortunately, ACEs are common with around 61 percent of adults reporting experiencing at least one adverse childhood experience. Many children experience several ACEs, and the more ACEs present, the more severe the negative outcomes tend to be.
How does childhood trauma affect individuals in adulthood?
Trauma, although defined as an emotional response, has effects on both the brain and the body. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, childhood trauma is linked with both behavioral health and chronic physical health issues.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists several effects of childhood trauma in adulthood according to various studies.
- Increased risk of injury
- Increased risk of sexually transmitted disease
- Increased maternal and child health concerns (like teen pregnancy, pregnancy complications and fetal death)
- Increased risk of involvement in sex trafficking
- Increased risk of chronic conditions like cancer, heart disease and diabetes
- Increased risk of suicide
- More likely to live in a segregated neighborhood
- More likely to move often
- More likely to experience food insecurity
- More likely to experience chronic stress
- More likely to experience delinquency
- Impairments in attention, decision making and learning
- Impaired immune response
- Impaired stress response
- Difficulty building and maintaining positive relationships
- Difficulty maintaining stable employment
- Financial struggles
- Increased risk of developing a substance use addiction
- Increased risk of developing mental health disorders
- Increased risk of passing on trauma to his or her own children
The effects of childhood trauma are far-reaching and long-lasting. Too often childhood trauma is bottled up and manifests later in adulthood as a severe mental health condition, like anxiety, depression or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Can childhood trauma be fixed?
Thankfully, most trauma is preventable. By building up protective factors and mitigating risk factors, you can safeguard your child or young people in your life from adverse experiences. Here are ways to shelter your loved ones.
- Promote a stable family system
- Establish social norms of safety and discourage violence
- Teach social-emotional skills
- Increase child involvement in age-appropriate activities and extracurriculars
- Connect children to positive peers and mentors
Sadly, we can’t always intervene before trauma has occurred. If this is the case, there are still many ways that trauma can be treated. Here’s how loved ones and professionals can reduce the negative effects of childhood trauma in adulthood.
- Understand the symptoms of trauma
- Reduce stigma around treatment
- Therapy or counseling
- Prescribed antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications
- Involvement in pro-social activities
- Strengthening a support system of friends, family and treatment providers
- Holistic therapies like art therapy, mindfulness, nature therapy, etc
- A self-care routine
- Reinforced coping skills
Healing from childhood trauma in adulthood isn’t easy, but it is possible. The right treatment can help you process the past, find healing and create new meaning in your life.
Find the care you deserve with Silvermist Recovery. Get mental health treatment for trauma and personalized intervention for co-occurring substance abuse issues. This is the clean slate you’re looking for— don’t hesitate to call Silvermist today.