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How child abuse impacts adulthood

Apr 15, 2024 | Blog, Expert Insights

Multiple studies have shown negative outcomes for adults who experienced abuse as a child, such as an increased risk of facing violence, abuse or neglect in the home and/or community as an adult. Exposure to maltreatment or other forms of abuse as a child have correlated to poor outcomes later in life.

What is child abuse and what does it look like?

Child abuse can take many forms.

  • Physical: kicking, hitting, biting or any act that might inflict harm
  • Sexual: human trafficking, prostitution or grooming
  • Emotional: threatening, shouting or humiliating
  • Neglect: Ignoring physical and emotional needs
  • Substance: prenatal exposure, selling/buying alcohol or drugs for a child

What are the long-term effects of child abuse?

Those who experienced abuse as a child could suffer:

  • Lifelong injuries such as chronic pain
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress

They can also experience emotional and psychological effects that could include an inability to cultivate healthy relationships and develop friendships which can impact their self-identity. This can affect their ability to finish school or hold down a steady job.

How does it impact adult relationships?

Adults who experienced abuse as a child may be at risk for bullying or have externalized behaviors such as physical and verbal aggression towards others. They may also struggle with impulse control, and their decision-making may engage in risky behaviors such as substance use or sexualized behaviors.

What help is available for an adult who experienced abuse as a child?

The first step — and a huge step — toward receiving help is to recognize the impact that their child abuse has had on them. There are times individuals are unaware of the lingering effects from early childhood traumatic experiences. It can be helpful to talk to a mental health professional or your primary healthcare provider to determine how childhood abuse is affecting you as an adult.

Are there any tips you can do at home to deal with past emotions or flashbacks?

Child abuse survivors might have ‘triggers’ that bring up traumatic memories or even worsen their mental health symptoms. If you are experiencing post-traumatic stress, you should seek professional support to develop a treatment plan and determine the best course of action.

A strong support system and coping skills are crucial to recovery

As an adult receives treatment and support for childhood abuse, it’s crucial to develop supports such as friends, family, counselors and therapists. These can help an individual overcome, recover and develop new skills for a successful adulthood.

If you or someone you know may be experiencing abuse or neglect, please call the Childhelp® National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) or visit for help.


By Melissa Hopper
Program Expert Clinical Services
Youth Villages

portrait of Melissa Hopper

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