The effects of child abuse and neglect can be serious and detrimental, both short-term and long-term. It can be important to recognize the effects of child abuse and neglect and to report possible mistreatment whenever you see it. People who have been mistreated may also face a greater risk of becoming harmful to others later in life, although many people who were once abused move on to become careful, kind, and productive part of society. If you survived childhood abuse and are still experiencing negative effects, therapy with a licensed mental health professional can be beneficial.
Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised, the below article references trauma-related topics that may potentially be triggering.
Effects Of Child Abuse And Neglect: Potential Long-Term Consequences
Long-term consequences of child abuse and neglect can be physical, psychological, and behavioral. The following may occur after mistreatment:
While some long-term effects of child abuse and neglect can occur instantly, such as brain damage from head trauma, other effects may take months or even years to become detectable. Survivors of abuse may face a higher risk for a variety of long-term or future physical health problems, including:
- High blood pressure
- Bowel disease
- Heart disease
- Lung problems
Survivors of mistreatment and neglect may also be at risk for the effects of stunted or improper brain development. Regions of the brain, including the amygdala, which typically plays a large part in processing emotions, and the hippocampus, which can be critical for learning and memory, can be negatively affected by child abuse and neglect. However, with the help of treatment and intervention, it can be possible to help these areas of the brain recover.
Substance Use Disorders
Children of parents with substance use disorders may face a greater risk of experiencing abuse or neglect. Abuse, in turn, can increase their risk of turning to various substances as coping mechanisms when they grow older.
One long-term study that followed survivors until they reached age 24 found that experiencing physical abuse during the first five years of life can be strongly linked to developing a substance use disorder later in life.
Juvenile Delinquency And Criminal Acts
According to research funded by the National Institute of Justice, those who are neglected or abused as children may be more likely to develop antisocial behaviors, which can include criminal acts and juvenile delinquency, and may choose to associate with others who also display these antisocial tendencies.
Psychological And Behavioral Issues
Experiencing abuse and neglect when you're young can also be a risk factor for developing psychiatric disorders, such as:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Anorexia or bulimia
- Behavioral disorders
Research on childhood trauma and its effects on the brain suggests that stunted or impaired brain development from abuse may play a part in the potential development of these disorders.
Impaired Cognitive Skills And Executive Functioning
Child abuse and neglect can disrupt brain development, potentially resulting in the impairment of the brain’s executive functions. These functions may include working memory, self-awareness, planning, and problem-solving. This damage can result in:
- Learning disabilities
- Poor grades
- A higher chance of dropping out of school
These short-term effects can sometimes have a drastic impact on a child’s future.
Direct And Indirect Costs To Society
Abuse and neglect can have far-reaching consequences that often do not stop at the person who is or was abused. Society, as a whole, can be affected by childhood abuse.
Child Mistreatment And Neglect: Potential Short-Term Consequences
Depending on their age, children who experience abuse and neglect can respond to it in a variety of different ways. Preschool-aged children or toddlers may start bed-wetting and displaying signs of severe anxiety. Elementary school kids might have low grades or very few friends. Some teenagers might experiment with substances or fight with their families, though these aren’t always signs of abuse or neglect.
Depression And Anxiety
Children of any gender or age can experience depression and anxiety as a result of abuse (or unrelated to abuse). Feelings of guilt and anger may also be common, especially among adolescent survivors of abuse.
Altered Sleep Cycles
Those who are abused as children may also experience altered sleep cycles. Nightmares, sleep disturbances, and hypervigilance can contribute to their sleep problems. These symptoms typically occur in preschoolers, but can occur later in life as well, especially if PTSD or anxiety are present.
Regressive behavior can occur when a child regresses to an earlier developmental stage emotionally, socially, or behaviorally. Wanting a bottle or pacifier after they have already been weaned off them may be one example of regressive behavior. Age regression can occur in people of all ages.
Separation Anxiety Disorder
Preschool-aged children may develop separation anxiety disorder as a result of abuse and neglect. Symptoms of this disorder can include constantly shadowing a caretaker around the house, as well as stomachaches and dizziness in anticipation of separation.
People abused as children may develop low self-worth. They may internalize the abuse and believe they caused or deserve it. These feelings of incompetence and shame can carry into adulthood and become long-term effects of child abuse and neglect.
Teenagers may start to engage in unsafe sex or start misusing substances as a result of abuse or neglect from loved ones. They may also start fights in school or bully others.
Possible Signs Of Mistreatment In Children
Many people abused as children feel afraid to tell someone about the situation. This may stem from shame or confusion. It could also occur if the abuser is a parent or trusted adult. That’s why it can be so important to remain aware and alert for signs of child abuse in anyone under your care.
Common red flags of physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect may include:
- Unexplained injuries
- Sexual behavior or knowledge that is inappropriate for their age
- Low attendance in school
- Poor hygiene
You may also notice disturbing behavior from the children’s parents when they are around. This can include verbal abuse, a lack of concern for their children’s well-being, and even physical abuse. While child health experts generally condemn the use of any kind of violence, some people still use corporal punishment to discipline their children.
Types Of Child Abuse
Child abuse can take many forms. Some of them may even occur at the same time. They may include the following:
- Physical abuse: Hitting, punching, and choking can be several examples of physical abuse. Anything that puts a child in harm’s way or that is meant to physically injure them is typically considered physical abuse.
- Sexual abuse: Sexual abuse generally includes any form of sexual activity with a child.
- Emotional abuse: Emotional abuse, such as verbal assault or ignoring a child, can negatively affect self-esteem and emotional well-being.
- Neglect: Failing to provide adequate food, shelter, supervision, education, or healthcare is normally considered to be child neglect.
Prevent Child Abuse And Neglect
As a parent, you can work to prevent child abuse and neglect by ensuring that your child is always nurtured and looked after. As a friend or a relative, you can help babysit or look after children in your life and keep an eye out for any of the potential signs of abuse discussed above.
You can also get involved in the local community by developing parenting resources at the local library, asking leaders to create services to meet the needs of different families, and volunteering at child abuse prevention programs.If you believe a child has been abused, please seek help for them immediately. You can contact the child’s doctor, the local police department, or the 24-hour Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453. The National Child Abuse Hotline can give you information on support resources, emergency services, and social assistance.
Seeking Professional Help As An Adult Survivor Of Childhood Abuse
If you experienced abuse as a child, it may be beneficial to seek professional help so you can address any long-term effects you may be experiencing. Both in-person and online therapy can be valid options for treatment.
You may feel more comfortable trying online therapy, as you can attend sessions from home at a time that fits your schedule. When discussing vulnerable topics like abuse, it can be helpful to be in a familiar place where you feel safe and comfortable. In addition, you can choose to speak to your therapist via phone call or online chat if a video call feels too intimidating.
Although there isn’t yet much research regarding the efficacy of online therapy for adult survivors of childhood abuse, studies show that, in general, online therapy tends to be just as effective as in-person therapy. Please don’t hesitate to reach out for the help you deserve.
What are the long-term consequences of early neglect and abuse?
Long lasting consequences of childhood neglect and abuse can include an increased risk of many psychiatric and medical disorders. Survivors of childhood abuse may be at higher risk for a variety of medical conditions, including arthritis, bowel disease, cancer, diabetes, lung problems, heart disease, and malnutrition along with stunted or improper brain development. Improper brain development can also contribute to learning disabilities, poor grades, or dropping out of high school.
Children who experience neglect and abuse may also be at higher risk for developing substance use disorders, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and PTSD and partaking in antisocial behaviors, including criminal acts and juvenile delinquency.
What are the long-term effects of childhood trauma?
Child sexual abuse, physical abuse, and other childhood trauma can have long-term effects that reach well into adulthood. These can include a higher risk of physical health problems, like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, lung problems, bowel disease, arthritis, and malnutrition as well as developmental issues that can affect school performance. Childhood trauma can cause mental health problems, potentially increasing the risk of substance use disorders, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and eating disorders as well as the increased likelihood of juvenile delinquency or committing criminal acts.
What are the short-term and long-term consequences of childhood maltreatment?
Children and teens who are abused or mistreated may experience shame, guilt, anger, anxiety, or depression. They may act out by being sexually promiscuous, running away, shoplifting, or committing acts of vandalism. Short-term health issues can include stomach aches, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, or trouble sleeping. Child maltreatment may also lead to poor social skills, skip school, and have poor grades.
In adulthood, other issues can arise, including abusing drugs and alcohol and experiencing low self-esteem or depression. Abused children who do not get help may be more likely to abuse others and may develop or continue unhealthy attitudes about sex. Their physical health may be impacted, too, as childhood abuse can increase the risk of developing a range of health conditions, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and lung disease.
How can abuse affect the physical body of a person in the long term?
Abuse can have long-term effects on physical health, including an increased risk of substance use and addiction, reduced height, higher dietary fat intake, obesity, and poor sleep quality. Childhood abuse has also been shown to increase the risk of cancer, and it may be associated with ulcers, arthritis, and migraines in adulthood.
What is the long-term effect of emotional abuse?
Emotional abuse has many long-term effects. It can cause chronic pain, anxiety, or depression and lead to feelings of guilt, shame, hopelessness, or powerlessness. Severe and ongoing emotional abuse can also increase the risks of alcohol and drug use, chronic pain, and more.
What are the long-term consequences of adverse childhood experiences, and what does it increase the risk of?
Adverse childhood experiences like neglect, abuse, and trauma can affect gene expression and lead to many complicated issues in adulthood. Children who have been abused and do not get help may be more likely to abuse others and may develop unhealthy attitudes toward sex. Adults who have experienced adverse childhood experiences can be more likely to abuse drugs and experience depression or low self-esteem. They may be at greater risk for some physical conditions, too, like cancer, heart disease, andlung disease.
What are the long-term effects of trauma?
Trauma and the related toxic stress can have many physical and mental long-term effects. People who have experienced trauma in childhood may have a higher risk of developing cancer, heart disease, bowel disease, or arthritis. Children who have experienced trauma may have developmental issues that can affect academic performance, and may be more likely to have substance use issues, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, or PTSD in adulthood.
Can childhood trauma cause permanent damage?
Yes, if untreated, early childhood trauma can cause permanent damage, but our brains continue to grow and change throughout childhood, and any maladaptive circuitry that occurs as a result of trauma may be molded by interventions, enrichment, and treatments. According to Prevent Child Abuse America, positive relationships and experiences can help in the development of healthy children and adults, leading to more positive physical and mental health outcomes.
Can childhood trauma last a lifetime?
The Child Welfare Information Gateway offers resources that explain the long-term effects of childhood trauma that can last a lifetime without proper treatment and intervention. Some ways trauma can affect people in the long-term include increased risks of developing bipolar disorder, PTSD, anxiety disorders, and substance use disorders and increased the likelihood of suicide attempts. Many physical health problems are linked to childhood abuse and neglect, too, including diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, migraines, lung disease, cancer, and stroke.
What is the long-term psychological impact of experiencing significant trauma?
The long-term psychological effects of trauma may include increased risks of developing mood disorders, bipolar disorder, PTSD, substance use disorders, and anxiety. These negative outcomes can be mitigated with the right emotional support and mental health treatment.
- Previous Article
- Next Article