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Iceland knows the secret to stopping teen substance abuse — Is anyone paying attention?

In the past 20 years, Iceland’s rates of teen drinking, smoking, and drug use rates have drastically plummeted. Mosaic Science reports that in 1998, the percentage of 14- to 16-year-olds who reported being drunk in the previous month was 42 percent and by 2016, it was just 5 percent. Cigarette smoking went from 23 percent to 3 percent, and using cannabis from 17 percent to 7 percent. The secret? Common sense solutions, inspired by fresh data, and rooted in the community and the family.

Iceland’s success actually began in the US, with an American psychology professor named Harvey Milkman. He studied drug use in the 1970s and in his doctoral dissertation concluded that the drugs people choose are based on how they prefer to deal with stress. This led him to ask why people continue with substance abuse, and he later went on to develop the idea that people were becoming addicted to what was happening in their brains. “People can get addicted to drink, cars, money, sex, calories, cocaine – whatever,” says Milkman. “The idea of behavioral addiction became our trademark.”

In 1991, Milkman was invited to Iceland to discuss his work and ideas and became a consultant to the first residential drug treatment center for teens in Iceland.  He befriended another like-minded psychologist named Gudberg Jónsson, and a young researcher named Inga Dóra Sigfúsdóttir was drawn to their work. Sigfúsdóttir became interested in whether you could stop kids drinking or taking drugs in the first place by creating healthy alternatives.

Read more at Aleteia.

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