The impact of childhood adversity, including abuse and neglect, on adult health

Exposure to serious adverse experiences in childhood, including physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect is very common. Many good studies suggest that abuse occurs to about 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 children. Exposure to a broader range of adversities that include things like growing up in a home where adults have addictions or mental illness or are engaged in criminal activity occurs in about half of children (maybe even more). Vincent Felitti and his colleagues have demonstrated just how strongly exposure to childhood adversity is linked to adult health (see the the link in the sidebar about their ACE study). It is an enormous public health problem that gets too little attention.

  • Maunder RG, Peladeau N, Savage D, Lancee WJ. The prevalence of childhood adversity among healthcare workers and its relationship to adult life events, distress and impairment. Child Abuse & Neglect. 34:114-123, 2010.
  • Maunder RG, Halpern J, Schwartz B, Gurevich M. Symptoms and responses to critical incidents in paramedics who have experienced childhood abuse and neglect. Emergency Medicine Journal. 29:222-227, 2012.
  • R Caplan, S Hart, M Silverberg, R Maunder, J Stempak. Attachment, childhood abuse, and IBD-related quality of life and disease activity outcomes. Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. 2014 May.
  • Maunder RG, Hunter JJ, Atkinson L, Steiner M, Wazana A, Fleming AS, Moss E, Gaudreau H, Meaney MJ, Levitan RD. An attachment-based model of the relationship between childhood adversity and somatization in children and adults. Psychosomatic medicine. 2017 Jun 1;79(5):506-13.
  • Le TL, Levitan RD, Mann RE, Maunder RG. Childhood Adversity and Hazardous Drinking: The Mediating Role of Attachment Insecurity. Subst Use Misuse. 2018 Jan 15:1-12.