Reducing consumption to 0%

Iceland has found the formula to reduce drug usage among young people, should other countries apply this new incentive?

Reducing consumption to 0%

Leer en Español: Buscando un consumo del 0%

Iceland is well-known for choosing an openly gay Head of State in 2009 and for legislating in favor of elves. However, it is a nation that has one of the most successful programs when dealing with the reduction of consumption of alcohol and drug usage among young people.

Since 1988, a project called the “Youth in Iceland” has been used throughout the territory has managed to drastically reduce the number of teens affected by said substances.

The population in Iceland is not numerous; there are a little more than 330,000 inhabitants, but 20 years ago, the country was one of the biggest hot spots that needed attention regarding youth drug use. "In 1998, in Iceland, 42% of 15 and 16-year-olds had had alcohol last month, while only 5% had any sort of alcohol in 2016; in terms of marijuana, the figure dropped from 17% to 7% and cigarettes from 23% to 3%”, affirmed psychologist Harvey Milkman, who has been part of the project. Milkman argues that addiction among young people can be understood as a dependence on chemical changes that are generated when trying to cope with stress.

For this psychologist, along with Gudberg Jónsson, applying a project like this required an investigation that mandated the participation of the society as a whole. Milkman, in his doctoral thesis, discovered the correlation between drugs and stress; he then found that the youth lives different stages of stress that assert the consumption of drugs.

Milkman's investigations took him to Iceland where he met Jónsson and from that moment onward their priority became to find stress relivers to help with the high consumption rates that gave Iceland such a bad reputation. As a result of their investigation, it was deduced that extracurricular activities were mediocre, as well as the time kids spend with their parents.

After pinpointing the problem, they knew the path they needed to take; activities such as music classes, dance, and art classes were recommended by the program. Also, parents were given paternity workshops, as well as being persuaded to share more time with their children. By 2006, the results had been so successful that other countries in Europe began to analyze the nation’s success.

It is clear that for other countries, population size represents a problem making the implementation of similar programs complex. “Youth in Europe” was brought to life in order to be implemented, through pilot programs, in medium-sized local communities.

In Latin America, according to UNICEF data, 35% of young people between the ages of 13 and 15 report having taken alcohol in the last month and, approximately, 17% smoke every day. Implementing a project like “Youth in Iceland” can bring forward positive results. However, it must be taken into account that the region’s population is close to 620 million inhabitants.

For Latin America, the implementation of pilot programs in small localities can shed some light on how the execution of the strategy should be made throughout the territory. While Europe has shown interest in the program and has done so gradually, no American country has shown interest.


Latin American Post | Carlos Eduardo Gómez Avella

Copy edited by Susana Cicchetto

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