Definition: What is an ACE?

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An adverse childhood experience (ACE) describes a traumatic experience in a person’s life occurring before the age of 18 that the person remembers as an adult.


In a 2011 Minnesota telephone survey, individuals were asked if they had experienced any of nine types of ACEs. The nine ACEs are:

  • physical abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • emotional abuse
  • mental illness of a household member
  • problematic drinking or alcoholism of a household member
  • illegal street or prescription drug use by a household member
  • divorce or separation of a parent
  • domestic violence towards a parent
  • incarceration of a household member

The ACE score is a measure of cumulative exposure to adverse childhood conditions. Exposure to any single ACE condition is counted as one point. If a person experienced none of the conditions in childhood, the ACE score is zero. Points are then totaled for a final ACE score. It is important to note that the ACE score does not capture the frequency or severity of any given ACE in a person’s life, focusing instead on the number of ACE conditions experienced. In addition, the ACE conditions used in the ACE survey reflect only a select list of experiences.