How Iceland Got Their Teenagers Off Drugs

In a country of just 330,000 people, isolated from the rest of the world, Iceland has shown a remarkable deceleration in substance abuse amongst teenagers. Proving to the rest of the world that a series of well thought out cultural reforms can lift substances out of the hands of teenagers.
In the 1990’s Iceland had one of the highest rates of alcohol usage in Europe, an eye-opening 42 percent of Icelandic teens drank regularly in 1998. However the latest results that have come in have shown a massive drop in usage, from 1998 to 2016, the percentage of 15-16 year old Icelandic youth drunk in the past 30 days declined from 42% to 5%; daily cigarette smoking dropped from 23% to 3%; and having used cannabis one or more times, fell from 17% to 5%.

So how did they do it?

These surprising results are all due to the groundbreaking work from Icelandic sociologist Inga Dóra Sigfúsdóttir and American psychologist Harvey Milkman who studied the teenagers back in the late 80s and early 90s, in 1999 a Youth in Iceland initiative was launched based on their work. The initiative found a more organic paced solution which allowed the government took take a wider cultural look at this demographic and implement recreational programs that helped teens channel their abuse and curiosity into other areas. Iceland strongly encouraged teenagers to become involved in extracurricular activities, which were subsidized, laws regarding the sale of drugs and alcohol were made far stricter, new organizations were set up to encourage parental involvement with both their children and the children’s lives. And finally and most controversial of all, a nationwide curfew was instituted for all youth between 13-16. Of the results, Milkman  “This is the most remarkably intense and profound study of stress in the lives of teenagers that I have ever seen,” says Milkman. “I’m just so impressed by how well it is working.”

Other nations around the world are now taking a look at this approach and seeing if they can implement the same measures to drop substance abuse amongst teenagers.