Can Future Addiction Be Predetermined by Childhood Testing?
The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Test can predict future adult behavior based upon traumatic childhood experiences. The testing is founded upon the work of Dr. Vincent Felitti who ran the Kaiser Permanente’s Department of preventive Medicine in San Diego, California in 1980. One of the programs that the Department offered was an obesity clinic that Dr. Felitti expected would be a high outcome of success. But the program was not successful because over half of the participants in the obesity clinic would leave the program before they reached their weight-loss goals. Initially, the obesity clinic was designed to help people whose weight-loss goal was 100 pounds or more, but the obesity clinic also treated people whose weight-loss goal was as low as 30 pounds. All the participants lost weight on the program but still many left before achieving their original weight-loss goal.
Dr. Felitti was perplexed by the outcome of the program and wondered if gaining weight was a learned coping mechanism. Was the pain of childhood traumatic experiences eased through a ritual of eating and weight gain? Dr. Felitti worked closely with his colleague Dr. Robert Anda of the Centers for Disease Control. Together they studied the surveys of approximately 20,000 patients who had experienced a variety of childhood traumas. The results of the study were astounding and revealed that childhood stress and emotional trauma correlated with many high-risk behaviors such as substance abuse and sexual promiscuity. The study also showed that there was an even greater risk of developing cancer, heart disease and chronic lung disease. The Adverse Childhood Experiences Test, commonly known as The ACE Test, has proven to be an important diagnostic tool. The test is easy to take and is graded on a 1-10 score. It correlates significant high-risk behaviors along with physical and mental problems based upon childhood experiences.
Dr. Felitti had quite innocently made the connection with childhood trauma and adult health problems. Having asked one of his early patients how much they weighed when they first became sexually active, the reply was 40 pounds. The patient, through tears, recollected how her father had committed incest with her. As time went on, Dr. Felitti began to probe his patients more deeply and discovered that many had suffered sexual abuse and other traumatic experiences. Another one of the Doctor’s patients offered him an eye-opening remark when they said, “Overweight is overlooked, and that’s how I need to be.”
The ACE Study, led by Dr. Felitti and Dr. Anda was a large-scale endeavor that involved 17,000 individuals who were all members of the Kaiser HMO. The ACE Study recognized seven basic categories of adverse childhood experiences. These markers are: physical, psychological or sexual abuse; violence against one’s mother; living in a household with members who were substance abusers; mentally ill, suicidal or imprisoned. All of the above markers are high-risk factors for alcohol and substance abuse, high-risk behavior and other health problems.
The ACE Test currently consists of ten questions that evaluate the seven factors, along with the absence of an emotionally supportive environment, physical neglect and the loss of a parent due to abandonment or divorce. One point is allotted to every yes answer to the questions on a 1-10 scale. People who score high on the ACE Test have a much greater risk of developing stress-related physical ailments, skeletal fractures, ischemic heart disease, liver disease, cancer and chronic lung disease. People who scored high in multiple categories were more likely to have multiple health problems in their later years.
While the ACE Test offers great insight into a person’s future probability, it is not failsafe. There are other mitigating factors to consider, such as all the good experiences and relationships a person had in their childhood. When the good experiences outweigh the bad, they sometimes work as a counter-weight to the negative outcome. Either way, the outcome does not define the person, and there is hope in overcoming any childhood trauma.