Unfortunately, childhood trauma is much more common than you might think. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), over sixty-six percent of children report experiencing at least one traumatic event by the age of sixteen.
And sadly, trauma can include everything from psychological abuse, physical abuse, and neglect to school violence, natural disasters, or terrorism.
But, a new study conducted by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Pharmacy has found a promising way to help identify children with the greatest need for post-traumatic treatment and intervention following these events.
In fact, the researchers discovered that epigenetic traces of childhood trauma could actually be utilized as biomarkers. Then, these biomarkers can be used to predict people’s risk of depression, alcohol use, nicotine dependence, and various other health issues nearly seventeen years after the trauma.
To first ascertain whether or not a childhood trauma increases people’s health risks later on in life, the research team started by analyzing epigenetics.
Epigenetics is the study of how environments and behaviors can change the way your genes are expressed. However, these molecular changes do not alter DNA sequences themselves.
So, the team analyzed blood samples and clinical data collected via the Great Smoky Mountain Study– a thirty-year project conducted by Duke University and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
The project began surveying hundreds of adolescents between the ages of nine and thirteen and then followed them into adulthood.
“There are few studies in the world that have collected this kind of data for so long,” said Karolina Aberg, a co-author of the study– which made the Great Smoky Mountain Study a prime candidate for this kind of analysis.