1.4.6 What Conclusions Should you Draw from the ACE Questionnaire?

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Research by the CDC strongly suggests that 4 or more ACE’s are indicative of the following negative health outcomes in adults:

  • 3 x more likely to smoke and/or have lung disease
  • 11 x more likely to be an intravenous drug user
  • 14 x more likely to have made a suicide attempt
  • 4.5 x more likely to have suffered significant depression
  • 2 x more likely to have liver disease
  • 4 x more likely to have had sex before the age of 15

It is important not to draw too many conclusions from these results or to begin thinking fatalistically about it. For example, the ACE score doesn’t take into account your own unique circumstances and your own unique character. Humans have markedly different characters (personalities) and these remain relatively stable throughout the lifespan. You might be a person who has naturally high resilience.

Neither does it take into account genetic influences which might be protective factors against many of the illnesses and health conditions that are linked to ACE’s.

Also, the ACE study doesn’t take into account positive life experiences and life-skills you may have developed despite your early adverse environment. Oftentimes, extended family members such as grandparents and aunts or uncles can provide equal levels of maternal/paternal care and act as highly effective surrogate parents (as can other unrelated adults). Such human relationships can be a huge mitigating factor working against the effects of ACE.

Lastly, we must acknowledge that there are people with high ACE scores who are highly effective and well-balanced people, and there are people who do not score highly on ACE tests who are highly dysfunctional.

So what does the test tell us. Well. The statistics on the prevalence of ACE are pretty clear about one thing (see fig. 2 below). Only 12.5% of the population have 4 or more ACE’s, which roughly corresponds to the amount of people in society who have some kind of addictive disorder, or who are on their way to developing an addictive disorder.10

It is important for you to know that even if you are in the 12.5% of the population who have experienced 4 or more ACE’s, you are still the one who controls your own future. ACE’s may have shaped your yesterday’s, but they don’t have to shape your tomorrows.

Fig. 2: ACE Score Prevalence for CDC-Kaiser ACE Study Participants