Toxic Stress and Childhood Adversities: Causes, Effects, Treatment and Future Recommendations

Annabelle Carter


This paper was written with the goal of defining toxic stress and examining its social causes and biological long term effects. In order to do so, it includes both a literature review listing past data and research along with interviews with professionals in the fields of early childhood and mental health. Toxic stress is a psychobiological response, evolved in humans with the goal of protecting them in cases of immediate danger and should not remain active long term. However, in cases of toxic stress, this response stays engaged which results in lasting biological impact on the bodies and brains of children who experience it. This is caused by a number of social factors due to poverty or substance abuse and violence in the household. If assistive measures are taken during childhood through therapeutic or medical methods the long term effects can be blunted however if left untreated it can lead to mental health and physical issues later in life including changes in brain shape and hormone levels. Unfortunately, both long term effects and efficient treatment are not sufficiently researched or funded. This was emphasized in the interviews where each of the four interviewees were asked a series of six questions as to the impact toxic stress and childhood adversities played in their field, if and through what methods treatment is being conducted and future recommendations. It was found that the main issue is a lack of funding allocated towards training, an overall scarcity of training, and a lack of general knowledge due to the fact that this is a new and emerging issue. In the future, it is suggested that more research is put into the devastating long term effects of untreated toxic stress. Hopefully, more knowledge will help spread awareness of the seriousness of early childhood toxic stress and will inspire an increase in needed funding and training.