How Did Iceland Drastically Reduce Teen Substance Abuse Rates?

How Did Iceland Drastically Reduce Teen Substance Abuse Rates?

Rates of teen substance abuse is spiralling in Western countries as bored teens turn to cigarettes, alcohol and drugs.

It’s not unusual to see hordes of teenagers drinking alcohol, smoking and taking drugs in parks and other places at the weekends.

Where most countries seem unable to curb this trend, Iceland is leading the way at tackling the problem.

How Did Iceland Drastically Reduce Teen Substance Abuse Rates?

Twenty years ago, Iceland had a teen substance abuse problem that could rival any other country’s. Back then, Icelandic teens drank more than teens from other European countries, but that trend has now been resigned to the history books.

So, how did Iceland manage this and why aren’t other countries following their lead?

Researchers from the Metropolitan State College of Denver had been looking into wars to reduce teen substance abuse. Their idea was simple: they wanted to replace risk-taking behaviours with natural highs.

In 1992, a $1.2 million grant was awarded to the Metropolitan State College of Denver so they could try to tackle the problem.

Teenagers aged 14 and above who had a history of drugs and petty crime were referred to the programme and told they could learn anything they wanted; sports, art, dance, etc.

The idea was to help teenagers find their passion and to teach them a way of getting a rush from something without turning to drugs, alcohol or cigarettes.

According to Mosaic Science, this idea made it over to Icelandic academics in the early 90s who decided to expand on the idea and use it as a way of preventing substance abuse in the first place rather than as a way of treating the problem.

In 1992, 14 – 16 year olds were asked to fill in a survey. The results found certain things reduced the risk of substance abuse. These factors included playing sports, spending time with their parents, and not spending time outdoors late at night.

A programme called Youth in Iceland was introduced, aimed at reducing substance abuse amongst teens. As part of the programme, curfews were set for young people, parents were educated in the importance of family time and money was invested in youth programmes to give teens something to do.

Since the introduction of the programme, youth substance abuse rates have plummeted in Iceland. In 1998, 42% of 15- and 16-year-olds had been drunk in the previous month plummeted from 42 per cent; in 2016 that number was 5%. The number of teens who had used cannabis is down from 17% to 7%. Those teens smoking cigarettes every day fell dropped 20% to just 3%.

The Youth In Iceland model is now being copied in other countries around the world, though most seem unwilling to introduce all elements of the programme.

It’s not cheap to provide extracurricular activities for a generation of teenagers, which may be one reason why governments hesitate to introduce the policy. Yet the health service is bound to save money as young people spend time improving their health instead of smoking and drinking.

With many Western parents unsure where their kids really are on a Saturday night, the Icelandic curfew prevents all night parties and drinking sessions in public places.

The increased family time is something other countries would benefit from, too. Many parents go for quality time over quantity time, meaning their teenagers don’t often spend time taking part in family activities.

With the pressures of modern life, it’s not surprising many parents struggle to carve out regular family time, but the benefits to both children and parents could be huge.

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Fiona Peacock CONTRIBUTOR

Fiona Peacock is a writer, researcher and lover of all things to do with pregnancy, birth and motherhood (apart from the lack of sleep). She is a home birth advocate, passionate about gentle parenting and is also really tired.


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