Trauma Exposure, High Risk Behaviors and Functional Impairment

Jay Morse & Heidi Radunovich, PhD

According to recent research, 47% of children and adolescents exposed to trauma and traumatic loss reported attachment problems or functional impairments during adolescence in addition to other high risk behaviors including suicidality (24%), and substance abuse (20%)[1]. Using data collected by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), Layne and colleagues studied the effects of cumulative exposure of up to 20 different types of trauma on a large group of adolescents [1]. Findings from the study indicated that the probability of 9 types of adolescent high risk behaviors and functional impairment increased incrementally with each type of trauma exposure in childhood and adolescence.

Layne, et al. (2014)

Adapted from Layne, et al. (2014)

A total of 3,785 of 14,088 participants contained in the Core Data Set (CDS) were selected for study. Criteria for selection for the study included: (1) reported at least one confirmed or suspected type of trauma, (2) completed indicators of high-risk behavior and demographic questionnaires, and (3) were between the ages of 13 to 18 years old at baseline. All participants had sought health services through providers associated with NCTSN.

Examining the links between trauma event types and problem behaviors was the primary goal of the study. With each type of trauma or loss exposure, the probability of adolescent high-risk behavior and functional impairment increased. Of particular note, participants in the study had an average of more than 4 types of trauma exposure during childhood and adolescence.

Adolescence is a critical time for development of healthy cognitive and emotional functioning. Identifying childhood trauma, and treating individuals can reduce problems in later life.


[1] Layne, C., Greeson, J., Ostrowski, S., Kim, S., Reading, S., Vivrette, R., . . . Pynoos, R. (2014). Cumulative trauma exposure and high risk behavior in adolescence: Findings from the national child traumatic stress network core data set. Psychological Trauma-Theory Research Practice and Policy, 6(Suppl 1), S40-S49. doi:10.1037/a0037799

This post was written by Jay Morse & Heidi Radunovich, PhD, members of the MFLN Family Development (FD) team which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter, YouTube, and on LinkedIn.

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