The Klamath County population has one of the poorest health profiles in the State of Oregon . Klamath County is also ranked as having the highest child abuse rates per capita. There has been a significant research in the area of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the correlate ACEs have with physical and mental health, including substance use disorders.
The impacts of overwhelming stress on the brain’s development naturally continue into adulthood. As Klamath County’s youth that are exposed to this degree of stress grow up, they may start using drugs as a way to cope with their damaged stress responses. This in turn could lead to prison. If they start families of their own, these become ACEs for another generation. These are examples of behavioral influence — positive or negative habits that parents pass on to their children by example. Positive habits children may pick up from their parents include reading and exercising. Negative habits include smoking and responding to challenges with violence.
Recent research has shown that childhood experiences also have a genetic influence. Physical changes in our genes, triggered by trauma, get passed to our offspring. A study of Swedes over three generations found connections between men going hungry during their youth and rates of cardiovascular disease and diabetes among their children and grandchildren. In some ways, we inherit the experiences of our parents and grandparents as well as their physical characteristics.
Epigenetics, the science that looks at how people’s genes are affected by their environment, is beginning to show how historical traumas continue to affect the children of survivors in biological ways at the cellular level, as well as in behavioral ways. The good news coming from this emerging science is that we can change our biology, and our lives, for the better.