Background: Prescription drugs are one of the fastest growing healthcare costs in the United States. However, the long-term influence of child abuse and related traumatic stressors on prescriptions for psychotropic medications in adults has not been described. This study assessed the relationship of eight adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) to rates of prescriptions for psychotropic medications throughout adulthood. These ACEs included: abuse (emotional, physical, or sexual), witnessing domestic violence, growing up with substance abusing, mentally ill, or criminal household members, and parental separation/divorce.
Methods: Data about ACEs were collected between 1995 and 1997 from adult health maintenance organization patients; prescription data were available from 1997 to 2004. The number of ACEs (ACE Score: maximum 8) was used as a measure of cumulative traumatic stress during childhood. The relationship of the score to rates of prescribed psychotropic drugs was prospectively assessed among 15,033 adult patients eligible for the follow-up phase of the study (mean follow-up: 6.1 years). Data were analyzed in 2006. Multivariate models were adjusted for age, race, gender, and education.
Results: Prescription rates increased yearly during the follow-up and in a graded fashion as the ACE Score increased (p for trend <0.001). After adjusting compared with persons with an ACE Score of 0, persons with a score of equal to or more than 5 had a nearly threefold increase in rates of psychotropic prescriptions. Graded relationships were observed between the score and prescription rates for antidepressant, anxiolytic, antipsychotic, and mood-stabilizing/bipolar medications; rates for persons with a score of equal to or more than 5 for these classes of drugs increased 3-, 2-, 10-, and 17-fold, respectively.
Conclusions: The strong relationship of the ACE Score to increased utilization of psychotropic medications underscores the contribution of childhood experience to the burden of adult mental illness. Moreover, the huge economic costs associated with the use of psychotropic medications provide additional incentive to address the high prevalence and consequences of childhood traumatic stressors.