Early Life Mistreatment: 12 Long & Short-Term Repercussions

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated July 29, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Tonia Cassaday , LISW
The effects of child abuse and neglect are serious & can be detrimental both short & long-term. It is important to recognize the effects of child abuse and neglect & to report possible mistreatment whenever you see it. Unfortunately, people who have been mistreated may also face a greater risk to becoming harmful to others later in life (particularly boys mistreated by women during developing years). This includes all mistreatment & exploitation toward people under 18 by a caregiver or adult in a mentorship role. This can include sexual, physical, or emotional mistreatment. 
You Can Heal From A Traumatic Past
Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised, the below article references trauma-related topics that may potentially be triggering.
If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the  National Domestic Violence Hotline is available for you. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or Text “START” to 88788. You can also use the online chat
Effects Of Child Abuse And Neglect: 6 Potential Long-Term Consequences
Physical, psychological, and behavioral consequences are the three main long-term effects of child abuse and neglect that many experience.
Even years after the mistreatment ends, people who have been abused can still find themselves dealing with the long-term effects of the physical, emotional, or sexual abuse they faced. This impact can even span generations if people are unable to seek treatment and prevent the cycle from potentially repeating with their own children.
  1. Health Problems
While some long-term effects of child abuse and neglect occur instantly, such as brain damage from head trauma, other effects may take months or even years to become detectable. Survivors face a higher risk for a variety of long-term or future physical health problems, including:
  • Malnutrition
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Bowel Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Heart Disease
  • Lung Problems
Survivors of mistreatment and neglect are also at risk for effects of stunted or improper brain development. Regions of the brain, including the amygdala, which plays a large part in processing emotions, and the hippocampus, which is critical for learning and memory, are negatively affected by child abuse and neglect. However, with the help of treatment and intervention, it is possible to help these areas of the brain recover and overcome those effects.
  1. Substance Use Disorders
Children of parents with substance use disorder face a greater risk of experiencing abuse or neglect. It also increases their risk of turning to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism for themselves when they grow older. One long-term study that followed survivors until they reached 24 found that experiencing physical abuse during the first five years of life is strongly linked to developing substance abuse later in life.
Unfortunately, those who are neglected or abused as children can be more likely to become abusive to their own children. Seeking treatment, such as therapy, for abuse can be incredibly helpful with breaking this cycle of abuse and neglect and its effects.
  1. Juvenile Delinquency & Criminal Acts
According to research funded by the National Institute of Justice, those who are neglected or abused as children are also more likely to develop antisocial behaviors and associate with others who display these antisocial tendencies. 
The study also found that the abuse and neglect of children affects males and females differently. Females tended to internalize their behaviors, resulting in anxiety or social withdrawal. Males, on the other hand, displayed externalizing behaviors such as bullying or aggression. This behavior followed them into adulthood.
  1. Psychological & Behavioral Issues
Experiencing abuse and neglect when you're young is also a risk factor for developing psychiatric disorders such as:
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Anorexia or Bulimia
  • Behavioral Disorders
Research on childhood trauma and its effect on the brain suggests that stunted or impaired brain development from abuse may play a part in leaving those who have been abused vulnerable to these disorders. One study also found that adults with major depression who were also abused or neglected as children responded less effectively to antidepressant treatments. 
While experiencing child abuse and neglect might increase your chances of experiencing these issues, that does not mean that you are destined to deal with them for the rest of your life, or, possibly, at all.
  1. Impaired Cognitive Skills & Executive Functioning
Child abuse and neglect can disrupt brain development, resulting in an impairment of the brain’s executive functions. These functions 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 unfortunate short-term effects can have a drastic impact on a child’s future.
  1. Direct & Indirect Costs To Society
Abuse and neglect have far-reaching consequences that do not stop at the person who is or was abused. Society, as a whole, also must reckon with the effects of child abuse and neglect.
In 2015, the Center for Disease Control found that the total lifetime economic cost of child abuse and neglect added up to $428 billion. Direct costs, such as hospitalizations and foster care payments, and indirect costs such as long-term care like therapy and medication, factored into this total.
Child Mistreatment & Neglect: 6 Short-Term Potential Consequences
Depending on their age, children who experience abuse and neglect can respond to it in a variety of different manners. 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 experiment with drugs and alcohol or fight with their family members, though these aren’t always signs of abuse or neglect.
  1. Depression & Anxiety
Teenage girls have a higher chance of developing depression and anxiety from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. However, a child of any gender or age can experience depression and anxiety as a result of abuse. Feelings of guilt and anger are also common among adolescents.
  1. Altered Sleep Cycle
Those 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, if PTSD and/or anxiety are present.
  1. Regressive Behavior
Regressive behavior occurs 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 is one example of regressive behavior. Age regression can occur to people at any age. Children around three to four years of age may also show regressive behavior after witnessing domestic violence.
  1. Separation Anxiety Disorder
Preschool-aged children may develop a separation anxiety disorder as a result of abuse and neglect. Symptoms for this disorder include constantly shadowing a caretaker around the house as well as stomach aches and dizziness in anticipation of separation.
  1. Low Self-Esteem
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.
  1. Engagement In Risky Behaviors
Teenagers may start to engage in unsafe sex or start abusing drugs and alcohol as a result of abuse or neglect from loved ones. They may also start fights in school or bully others, though this behavior is observed more often in boys than girls.
Possible Signs Of Mistreatment In Children
Many people abused as children are afraid to tell someone about it. This may stem from shame or confusion. It could also occur if the abuser is a parent or trusted adult. That’s why it is 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 include:
  • Unexplained injuries
  • Sexual behavior or knowledge that is inappropriate for their age
  • Depression
  • 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 wellbeing, and severe physical abuse. While child health experts condemn the use of any kind of violence, some people still enforce corporal punishment to discipline their children. Even if the punishment is done to discipline the child, it could still be considered abuse.
Types Of Mistreatment
Child abuse takes many forms. Some of them may even occur at the same time.
  • Physical Abuse: Hitting, punching, and choking are several examples of physical abuse. Anything that puts a child in harm’s way or that is meant to physically injure them is considered physical abuse.
  • Sexual Abuse: Sexual abuse includes any sexual activity with a child.
  • Emotional Abuse: Emotional abuse, such as verbal assault or ignoring a child, negatively affects their self-esteem and emotional well-being.
  • Neglect: Failing to provide adequate food, shelter, supervision, education, and healthcare is considered 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 their kids and keep an eye out for any of the potential signs of abuse discussed above if you suspect that it could be occurring. 
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.

How To Seek Help

If you believe a child has been abused, you must 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. If the child needs immediate attention, call 911.
If you or someone you love has experienced child abuse, it is not too late to seek help. Talk to your doctor about the various therapy and treatment options that are available to you.
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