Childhood experiences directly affect brain development and adult health outcomes. Negative experiences can lead to poor health outcomes, while positive childhood experiences help build resilience. To improve health outcomes, we must work to prevent adverse experiences and promote positive ones.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Research shows that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as abuse and neglect, can greatly increase a person’s risk for poor quality of life and serious illness.

Trauma-informed communities and health care systems can help reduce health complications for children who have experienced ACEs. Additionally, trauma informed care and strong social supports can help to mitigate the impacts of ACES on antepartum health outcomes for women.


Health Outcomes from Positive Experiences (HOPE)

A growing body of research on Health Outcomes from Positive Experiences (HOPE) suggests that positive childhood experiences also influence adult health outcomes.  A balancing of the understanding of traumatic childhood experiences such as abuse, neglect or the loss of a loved one with the resiliency building factors of positive experiences is necessary to fully understand how childhood history impacts outcomes for adults.  Through the promotion of safe, stable, nurturing environments and strong relationships, we can help children experience social-emotional competence and gain the skills they need to help them manage stress and adversity into adulthood.


The HOPE Report

In August of 2022, The Montana Institute and University of Washington published the Healthy Outcomes from Positive Experiences (HOPE): Positive Childhood Experiences and Adult Substance Use Report, after collection of Montana statewide data from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

The report found that “positive childhood experiences do have a buffering impact on adult substance use behaviors, specifically cigarette, alcohol and illicit substance use”. The data indicates that the positive adult outcomes of PCEs extend beyond lower risks of physical and mental health to include a lower likelihood of cigarette and illicit drug use and lower likelihood of problem drinking behaviors.

Key findings include:
1. A positive community norm exists in Montana regarding positive childhood experiences reported by adults.
2. The more total PCEs reported, the lower the prevalence of having ever been a cigarette smoker.
3. The more total PCEs reported, the fewer alcoholic beverages consumed in the past 30 days.
4. The more total PCEs reported, the fewer drinks consumed per occasion.
5. Those who reported the lowest levels of PCEs reported more incidents of binge drinking in the past month.
6. The fewer total PCEs reported, the higher the maximum number of drinks consumed in a single occasion.
7. Those experiencing the most PCEs reported the lowest prevalence of lifetime illicit drug use.