How Iceland‘s winning war on teen substance abuse

The number of teenagers drinking, smoking and taking drugs has ...

The number of teenagers drinking, smoking and taking drugs has plummeted in the last 20 years. Eggert Jóhannesson

The environment of an Icelandic teenager has drastically changed in 20 years, according to a story in Mosaic Science. The reason is a programme called Youth in Iceland, created to respond to high percentage of teenage drinking and drug use.

There is a survey each year in Iceland’s schools to follow up on the results. In 18 years the percentage of 15- and 16-year-olds who had been drunk in the previous month plummeted from 42 per cent in 1998 to 5 per cent in 2016. The percentage who have ever used cannabis is down from 17 per cent to 7 per cent. Those smoking cigarettes every day fell from 23 per cent to just 3 per cent.

The percentage who have ever used cannabis is down from ...

The percentage who have ever used cannabis is down from 17 per cent to 7 per cent in 18 years. Júlíus Sigurjónsson

Schools, parents and state working together

Youth in Iceland aimed to get parents, school and the state to work together on this problem. Parents were encouraged to attend talks on the importance of spending time with their children, and their participation in their lives. Laws were changed so it became illegal to advertise alcohol, and the age restriction on purchasing alcohol was raised to 20 and 18 for buying cigarettes. A law was also passed prohibiting children aged between 13 and 16 from being outside after 10pm in winter and midnight in summer. This still in effect today.

Increased funding for sports and other organized recreation

The state also participated in another way, funding was raised for organized recreation such as sport, music, art, dance and other clubs. The aim was to give kids alternative ways to be a part of a group, and to make sure children from low-income families could participate in this. Today in Reykjavik each child receives a grant for 50,000 ISK (412 Euro) for recreational activities.

Football is a popular sport in Iceland.

Football is a popular sport in Iceland. Skapti Hallgrímsson

Youth in Iceland links to success in sports?

Author of the article in Mosaic Science wonders if the success of the Icelandic Men's National Football Team in the Euro Cup in 2016 has in some way been a result of this, most famous achievement being the defeat of England. Football is not the only area Iceland has been successful in the last year. The same story goes for basketball, gymnastics and even music. “These are young people who have been pushed into organised work,” says Inga Dóra Sigfúsdóttir from the Youth in Iceland programme.

The defeat of England in Euro 2016 was a memorable ...

The defeat of England in Euro 2016 was a memorable moment in Iceland. Skapti Hallgrímsson

Originated in the USA

Harvey Milkman, an American psychology professor had studied the cause behind addiction, why people do it. One idea led to another, orchestrating a social movement around natural highs. Around people getting high on their own brain chemistry. In 1991, Milkman was invited to Iceland to talk about this work, his findings and ideas. A collaboration resulted in the thought of using this not to treat children with problems, but to stop kids drinking and taking drugs in the first place. From this, Youth in Iceland was born, a nationwide plan.

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