The Program of West Palm Beach, Florida – Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center

How Childhood Experiences Can Determine Addiction


It turns out there may be a test that can determine whether or not childhood experiences lead to addiction. The Adverse Childhood Experiences study is a research study conducted by Kaiser Permanente health maintenance organization and the Centers for Disease Control for Prevention.

The study began in 1995. The first participants recruited to the study were a part of a long-term health outcome study. What it demonstrated was that there was a link between adverse childhood experiences with health and social problems as an adult. Health and social problems would include addiction or alcoholism.

So do you want to take the test? Well we have it for you. Wait until the end.

The test in its current form consists of 10 questions that evaluate seven factors.

The seven factors look at:

  • the absence of an emotionally supportive environment
  • physical neglect
  • loss of a parent to divorce
  • abandonment or death,
  • abuse
  • violence
  • living with other family members who were addicts or alcoholics

A “yes” answer to any of the questions is counted as one point on the 1-10 scale. For instance, a person with an ACE score of four or more were twice as likely to be smokers, 12 times more likely to have attempted suicide, seven times more likely to be alcoholic and ten times more likely to have used intravenous street drugs.

What Exactly Does This Test Determine?

The test is looking at how high levels of stress as children impact us in our adult lives. High levels of stress can create negative impacts in childhood that resonate in our adult life. As we know the brain of baby isn’t fully developed at birth. Rather, the brain develops in significant ways throughout childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. We know this intuitively but high levels of stress throughout these phases of live can have serious negative impacts down the road.

Three Types of Stress and Three Types of Stress Response

Is a positive stress response. What this means is basically it is a normal response to everyday stressors. The reaction primes the nervous system and the body to cope with sometimes significant stressors that a child will encounter later in life. They are a type of stress exercise that leave the mind and body prepared to deal with what a person will eventually have to deal with in adulthood.

  1. The next are tolerable stress responses. These are middle of the road stressors. The tolerable stress response is a response to a genuinely traumatic event, like losing a loved one, an injury, or a natural disaster. These of course can be devastating but what makes them tolerable and even an aid to having better coping skills is whether or not the environment in which they happen is supportive. If the answer to that is yes, then the result is better coping skills down the road, if the answer is no then the outcome isn’t so good.
  2. And then there is a negative stress response. It is also known as the toxic stress response. We have toxic stress response when there are powerful negative events that take place in the absence of adult support or there are events that take place often over time. These are the real crappy parts of childhood. The feelings of being helpless, combined with ongoing emotional abuse, neglect, caregiver substance abuse or mental illness, exposure to violence, the accumulated burdens of family financial hardship—all without adequate adult support.
  3. Of course the third is the most hazardous. And we now know that when under any kind of stress, our bodies release substances known as hormones that alter body function. Stress hormones in particular can be helpful over the short term but over the long term they can cause significant harm. Most importantly stress hormones can, over an extended period of time, can actually cause physical changes in the developing brain—leaving a person vulnerable to both high-risk behaviors like addiction and serious physical illnesses.

Once again, the test merely measure the amount of toxic, tolerable, and positive stressors were in our lives and it has determined there is a link between high toxic stress responses or stressors and addiction or alcoholism. Does that mean every person with these stressors becomes an addict? Absolutely not. But it is interesting to note that there may have been another biological reason for using drugs and alcohol to cope with whatever was going on.

1. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often…

 Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? or

Act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?

2. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often…

Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you?

Ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?

3. Did an adult or person at least 5 years older than you ever…

Touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way?

Attempt or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse with you?

4. Did you often or very often feel that …

No one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special?

Your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other?

5. Did you often or very often feel that …

You didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you? Your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it?

6. Did you ever lose a parent? Whether through abandonment or death? Were your parents ever separated or divorced?

7. Was a family member:  

Often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her?

Sometimes, often, or very often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard? Ever repeatedly hit at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife?

8. Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic or who used street drugs?

9. Was a household member depressed or mentally ill, or did a household member attempt suicide?

10. Did a household member go to prison?

Grading the Childhood Experiences and Addiction Test

For each yes give yourself one point. Remember we gave you the guide for scoring above. A score of four or more increases the risk of just smoking four fold. Anything higher increases the risk.

We hope you found this interesting. Turns out stress impacts us more than we could have predicted. If you want to read more about this please follow the links below.

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