Iceland has created a social movement to help teens to embrace sobriety and curb substance abuse.
Iceland has created a social movement to help teens to embrace sobriety and curb substance abuse. Twenty years ago, Icelandic teens were amongst the heaviest-drinking youths in Europe but these days Iceland tops the European table for the cleanest-living teens. In 1992, a team of researchers formed “Project Self Discovery” which targeted kids 14 and up who had started getting into trouble. This project was built around the idea of getting kids to learn something new like martial arts, dancing or boxing, and included a life skills class which helped change the way kids saw themselves and how they interacted with others. The project caught the eye of another researcher in the mid-90s who wondered if this could be used as a basis not just for kids with substance abuse problems, but also for kids who had never begun using. A handful of factors, like spending time with parents during the week, emerged as barriers to drug use. Based on this research, Iceland created the “Youth Iceland” program, which may be the most ambitious and successful anti-drug program to date. This program encouraged parents to spend time with kids during the week and the Icelandic government invested in new programs for sports, music, arts and dance to encourage kids to feel part of something and find their own “natural highs”. Low income families were also given a “leisure card” to participate in recreational activities with their children. This social movement has made a huge difference – the percentage of 15- and 16-year olds who had been drunk in the previous month plummeted from 42% in 1998 to 5% in 2016. Similarly, those who have ever used cannabis is down from 17% to 7% and those smoking cigarettes every day fell from 23% to 3%. Those spending time with their parents on weekdays also doubled from 23% to 46% and the percentage participating in an organised sport at least four days a week jumped from 24% to 42%. The Program has brought families closer and helped kids become healthier in all kinds of ways – we hope other countries also find ways to implement similar approaches and see that the benefits are worth the costs!