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Anti-Oppressive Approaches to Addressing ACEs Associated with Parental Substance Use


“While it is helpful to know which populations need additional support to address ACEs and build resilience among children, it is even more important to know why higher risk conditions exist and to address root causes of inequities that increase the risk of ACEs.” (Camacho, S; Henderson, S.C. 2022).

Over the past three decades, research on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) has gained widespread recognition, catalyzing policies and programs, and mobilizing knowledge focused on applying a public health approach to understanding and addressing some of society's most pressing social issues. The original 1998 ACEs study identified a crucial finding that has been reiterated through empirical validation over the past 30 years. It reveals that having a parent with a substance use disorder (SUD), classified as "household dysfunction," is considered an ACE, a potential trigger of stress, which subsequently increases the risk of experiencing additional ACEs. This cumulative effect, in turn, puts impacted youth at an increased risk of facing adverse health outcomes such as poor mental health, substance use challenges, and suicide (Felitti et al., 1998).

While evidence shows an intricate relationship between parental SUDs, ACEs, and the resulting harm and vulnerability in youth, the reasoning used to establish this underlying assumption of the ACE questionnaire does not address a pressing question: if parental SUDs were the main source of harm-associated with ACEs, why is it that systemic harm can also be experienced by parents and their children while seeking support for substance use, and root causes of substance use challenges?

Although systemic barriers have been acknowledged in emerging ACE research as a contributing factor for risk, we believe that ACE research continues not to be leveraged adequately. In particular, this approach has not been utilized to identify or address the social conditions to which the well-being of parents who use substances and their children can be actualized.

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There are various kinds of self-medicating. For example, the vast majority of obese people who considerably over-eat are likely doing so to mask mental pain or even PTSD symptoms.

I utilized that method during most of my pre-teen years, and even later in life after quitting my (ab)use of cannabis and alcohol. [I currently ‘live’ with chronic anxiety and depression that are only partly treatable via medication.]

It’s an emotionally tumultuous daily existence; a continuous discomforting anticipation of ‘the other shoe dropping’ and simultaneously being scared of how badly I will deal with the upsetting event, which usually never transpires.

The lasting emotional/psychological pain from such trauma is very formidable yet invisibly confined to inside the head. It is solitarily suffered, unlike an openly visible physical disability or condition, which tends to elicit sympathy/empathy from others.

It can make every day a mental ordeal, unless the turmoil is treated with some form of self-medicating, which for me is prescription or alcohol [via red wine]. Someday I could instead return to over-eating.

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