Common Health Issues: Causes, Effects & Prevention Strategies

Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

In this lesson, we'll go over some common contemporary health issues that many young people face today. We'll cover sexually transmitted diseases, drug and alcohol use, unintended pregnancies, and mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

What Are Common Health Issues Today?

Some of the most common health problems in our communities are the ones that we talk about least. Mental health, sex, drugs and alcohol seem to take a backseat to other, less controversial issues like the flu or a cold. Yet, over 18 percent of people in the United States experience some form of mental health problems each year. Similarly, alcohol is used ubiquitously in the United States, but the problems that arise from using alcohol are kept quiet. We're going to review some of the more common, but less-talked-about ailments -- those having to do with sex, drugs, alcohol and mental health.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are viruses or bacteria that are transmitted by vaginal fluid, semen or blood. STDs have a bad connotation. In the past, there's been a stigma that people with STDs are dirty or too liberal with their sexual encounters. However, herpes, a disease that makes people squeamish just to say, is carried by nearly 16 percent of the population. It's not as gross or rare as we might think.

Although herpes isn't life-threatening, some STDs are. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is an STD that infects the immune system. It slowly tears down a person's defenses, leaving them vulnerable to secondary infections like pneumonia. Eventually, the person can no longer fight off other illnesses, and they die. There is no cure for HIV, and there are a limited number of medications that can slow the progression of the disease.

The best way to prevent transmission of STDs is to not have sex. Physical barriers like condoms prevent the spread of STDs during vaginal and anal sex, and can even be used to prevent the spread of disease through sharing sex toys.

Condoms can prevent pregnancy and STDs.

Dental dams can protect participants during oral to anal or oral to vaginal sex. Always get tested for STDs when you change partners, and make sure your partner gets tested, as well, before engaging in sexual activity.


The other risk from vaginal sex is pregnancy. Pregnancy occurs when a male ejaculates into a female's vagina and sperm fertilizes her egg. The only way to eliminate your risk entirely is to not have sex, but thankfully there are also ways to decrease your risk.

Condoms, which are used to prevent STDs, also prevent pregnancy. Their effectiveness is only around 82 percent after you account for user error, so it's good to have a backup method, as well. Women can use hormonal contraception, like birth control pills, the patch, or the ring.

Hormonal birth control pills
birth control pills

The hormones prevent the women from releasing eggs, so there is nothing to fertilize even if semen does enter the vagina. Using these two methods together is the best way to have vaginal sex and still prevent pregnancy.

Drug and Alcohol Use

Although alcohol is legal, it can wreak havoc on people's lives, and underage drinking is a huge problem. Alcohol is addictive, and some people can find themselves relying on alcohol more and more to relax from a stressful week or day at the office. If people continue to use alcohol, they can become addicted to it, with their bodies needing alcohol to function properly.

Teens are especially at risk for the dangers of alcohol. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, meaning it slows all aspects of our brain activity. If too much alcohol is consumed too quickly, the brain can shut down entirely. In fact, about 88,000 deaths per year are attributed to alcohol use alone.

Alcohol abuse can lead to health and financial problems.
alcohol abuse

The safest way to drink is in moderation, which means no more than one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. However, the safest way to avoid problems with alcohol is to not drink at all.

Drugs have similar problems as alcohol use. Drugs, such as opiates and cocaine, are extremely addictive. People quickly find themselves dependent on the drug, and all of their money and energy goes towards obtaining more. They distance themselves from friends and family and engage in unsafe behavior like sex and crime to get more drugs.

Cocaine is a dangerously addictive drug that can have serious consequences to health and finances.

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