Iceland Knows How To End Drugs In Schools – Lessons For The US
Currently, Iceland occupies the first place in the European countries for adolescents with a healthy lifestyle. The percentage of boys between 15 and 16 who had taken a binge the previous month plummeted from 42% in 1998 to 4% in 2019. The percentage of teens using cannabis has ever decreased from 17% to 7%, and that of daily cigarette smokers has fallen from 23% to just 3%.
The country has managed to change the trend in a radical and empirical way, but it has been based largely on what we might call nothing short of a miracle. "It's the most extraordinarily intense and profound study of the stress in teenagers' lives I've ever seen", praises Milkman, a PhD in medical science. "I am very impressed with how well it works".
If adopted in other countries, he argues, the Icelandic model could be beneficial for the general, psychological and physical well-being of millions of young people.
“In the early 1970s, when I was working as a resident at the Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital in New York, LSD was already in vogue, and many people smoked marijuana; there was a great interest in why people took certain drugs”. Only recently, people started shifting from these extremely dangerous drugs to relatively safer alternatives, such as CBD Oil.
Milkman's doctoral thesis concluded that people chose heroin or amphetamines depending on how they wanted to deal with stress. Heroin users preferred to numb themselves, while people taking amphetamines preferred to actively confront it. When his work was published, Milkman joined a group of researchers recruited by the National Institute on Drug Abuse in the United States to answer questions such as why people start using drugs, why do they keep doing it, when it reaches the threshold of abuse, when they stop using them and when do they fall.
“Any kid of the faculty could answer the question of why it starts, and it’s that drugs are easy to get and young people like taking the risk. There is also isolation and maybe some depression playing a part”, he says. “But why do they continue to consume?”.
At Denver State Metropolitan University, Milkman developed the idea that the origin of addictions was in brain chemistry. The "combative" children were looking for something to get "high," and could get them by stealing hubcaps, radios, and later, cars. Of course, alcohol also alters brain chemistry. It is a sedative, but the first thing that it gets is the control of the brain, which can reduce anxiety at limited doses.
"People can become addicted to drinking, cars, money, sex, calories, cocaine ... anything," says Milkman. "The idea of behavioral addiction became our hallmark."
In 1992, his Denver team had obtained a grant of $1.2 million from the Government to create the Self-Discovery Project, which offered teenagers natural ways to get high that are alternative to drugs and crime. They asked the teachers, as well as the nurses and therapists of the schools, to send them students who had problems with drugs or misdemeanors. This program helped them turn their lives around and it soon took over the entire country, fixing thousands of young people.