Adverse Childhood Experiences

What if I told you the new gateway to addiction is something that cannot be smoked, swallowed, snorted, or injected; and your child may have been exposed to it and not even know it. The cartels cannot make it and dealers cannot sell it, but it is still prevalent in society. You as a parent and role model to youth can make all the difference in ACEs having an impact on your child’s life, not just as a child, but as they transition into adulthood. So, what is this vicious demon? ACEs or Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

Adverse Childhood Experiences are traumatic events that take place in a child’s life before age 18. Not only does this increase the risk of developing Substance Use Disorder (SUD), but ACEs are linked to chronic health problems such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and mental illness to name a few. Certain social determinants of health and ACEs create toxic stress or trauma in one’s life. ACEs have also been shown to have lasting lifelong negative effects on health, as well as life opportunities such as education and job potential. ACEs are measured by what is called the ACE Score. An ACE score ranges from zero to nine; the higher the score, the greater the risk.

So, what do the effects of ACEs look like in adulthood and what can you do about it? Studies show someone who has zero ACEs has a 1 in 69 chance that they will become an alcoholic, 1 in 480 use IV drugs, and 1 in 96 attempt suicide. Now, if we look at those same situations with someone that has experienced seven ACEs, the results are shocking. 1 in 6 is an alcoholic, 1 in 43 use IV drugs, and 1 in 5 attempt suicide. Those are alarming numbers, and you can see why ACEs are the gateway to addiction and negative lifelong health issues.

The good news is you can prevent ACEs. The even better news is that ACEs do not have to define who a person will become, and we as a community are in control. The first step is becoming aware of the damage that toxic stress and trauma can cause while providing a nurturing environment for our children to thrive in. If ACEs are prevented in the first place, children stand a much better chance to prosper as they mature and grow. Just because you or your child faced multiple ACEs in childhood, does not mean that either of you will be doomed to a life of destruction and sickness. I know individuals that have experienced all 9 ACEs, refused to become a victim, and are in control of becoming a better person each day. By learning effective coping skills and implementing positive habits into their lives, they are living proof that you can heal and love your story!


Author Joe Tracey  is Youth4Youth Program Director and member of the WOW Coalition. This prevention association promotes safe and healthy choices and responds to problems caused by alcohol, marijuana, and Rx abuse by implementing strategies to prevent and reduce youth substance use. For additional information, visit or contact him at

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