The Consequences of Childhood Trauma

Risk factors for disease, disability and early mortality are not randomly distributed. Research shows some of the worst health and social problems can arise as a consequence of adverse childhood experiences.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study) is a research study of more than 17,000 middle class Americans, recruited between 1995 and 1997. They all received a standardized physical examination and provided detailed personal information about their childhood experience of abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction. The group was tracked for long-term health outcomes.

By taking a whole life perspective, the ACE study began to uncover how adverse childhood experiences are strongly related to an individual’s development and prevalence to risk factors for disease and health and social well-being.

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) report trauma to include very frightening or distressing situations or events which may result in psychological wound or injury with a difficulty in coping or functioning normally. Everyone’s reaction is different, many will recover but some do develop problems. These problems can emerge well after the event/s.

The APS include the following in their list of situations and events that can lead a person to experience psychological trauma: acts of violence such as an armed robbery, war or terrorism, interpersonal violence such as rape, child abuse, or suicide of a family member or friend, natural disasters such as bushfire, earthquake or floods, and involvement in a serious motor vehicle or workplace accident.

The ACE study developed a list of questions that can determine your ACE score.

The ACE Study uses the ACE Score, which is a total count of the number of adverse childhood experiences reported by respondents. The ACE Score is used to assess the amount of stress during childhood (to the age of 18years) and has demonstrated that as the number of ACE increase, the risk for the following health problems increases in a strong and graded trajectory:

  • Alcoholism and alcohol abuse
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Depression
  • Foetal death
  • Health-related quality of life
  • Illicit drug use
  • Ischemic heart disease (IHD)
  • Liver disease
  • Risk for intimate partner violence
  • Multiple sexual partners
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • Smoking
  • Suicide attempts
  • Unintended pregnancies
  • Early initiation of smoking
  • Early initiation of sexual activity
  • Adolescent pregnancy


Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2014). Injury Prevention & Control: Division of Violence Prevention. Retrieved from

The Australian Psychological Society Limited (2015). Understanding and managing psychological trauma. Retrieved from

Scroll down to complete the ACE Questionnaire

Byron Clinic and Trauma Resolution

The ACE Questionnaire

This example of the ACE questionnaire attributes one point for each category of exposure to child abuse and/or neglect. A 'yes' response is scored 1 and a 'no', 0. The higher the score the greater the exposure and the greater the risk of negative consequences.

If you find answering these questions distressing, or if you have experienced any form of trauma, and you want help, start by talking with a licensed health care provider at your local mental health clinic. You can also contact Lifeline for crisis support on 13 11 14 or SANE's Helpline for information on where to get help on 1800 187 263

This is an anonymous questionnaire, for your own personal knowledge, and none of the results are recorded or stored in any way.

While you were growing up, during your first 18 years of life:

The ACE Study Reveals

The ACE Study revealed five main discoveries:

  • ACEs are common…nearly two-thirds (64%) of adults have at least one.
  • They cause adult onset of chronic disease, such as cancer and heart disease, as well as mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence.
  • ACEs don’t occur alone….if you have one, there’s an 87% chance that you have two or more.
  • The more ACEs you have, the greater the risk for chronic disease, mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence. People have an ACE score of 0 to 10. Each type of trauma counts as one, no matter how many times it occurs. You can think of an ACE score as a cholesterol score for childhood trauma. For example, people with an ACE score of 4 are twice as likely to be smokers and seven times more likely to be alcoholic. Having an ACE score of 4 increases the risk of emphysema or chronic bronchitis by nearly 400 percent, and suicide by 1200 percent. People with high ACE scores are more likely to be violent, to have more marriages, more broken bones, more drug prescriptions, more depression, and more autoimmune diseases. People with an ACE score of 6 or higher are at risk of their lifespan being shortened by 20 years.
  • ACEs are responsible for a big chunk of workplace absenteeism, and for costs in health care, emergency response, mental health and criminal justice. So, the fifth finding from the ACE Study is that childhood adversity contributes to most of our major chronic health, mental health, economic health and social health issues.



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