The program focuses on giving Icelandic youth “better options” than drugs and alcohol.
In 1999, a study following the long-term impact of D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) concluded that the popular anti-drug program did little to prevent American youth from experimenting with drugs and alcohol.
That same year, the Icelandic Centre for Social Research and Analysis (ICSRA) was born. The institute went on to develop Iceland’s own anti-drug strategy, which did away with old and ineffective strategies (like D.A.R.E.) and instead focused on access to sports, music and art, and parental involvement.
A recent feature by AP News explored the impact of Planet Youth, one of the most successful youth drug and alcohol prevention programs in the world.
The Program’s Approach
“The key to success is to create healthy communities and by that get healthy individuals,” said Inga Dora Sigfusdottir, who founded Planet Youth (formerly “Youth of Iceland”).
Iceland has invested in providing activities (sports, music, art) and facilities (youth centers) to “give kids alternative ways to feel part of a group, and to feel good, rather than through using alcohol and drugs,” according to the Planet Youth website.
The program “is all about society giving better options,” said Reykjavik Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson.
Prior to Planet Youth, Iceland, too, was contending with problematic substance use among its youth. The government tried to discourage drug and alcohol use through anti-drug “education” (like D.A.R.E.) that we’ve seen for a long time in the United States. But after observing the inefficacy of this approach, Iceland changed course. Rather than fixating on the potential harms of using drugs and alcohol, Planet Youth emphasizes interesting activities and better ways to spend one’s time.
“Telling teenagers not to use drugs can backlash and actually get them curious to try them,” said Sigfusdottir.
Today, Icelandic youth have among the lowest rates of substance abuse in Europe.
Other strategies employed by the Icelandic government to address youth substance abuse include imposing curfews for those under age 16, getting parents more involved in their kids’ lives, banning tobacco and alcohol advertising, and evolving the program based on current data.
The success of Planet Youth has gained the attention of other countries.
According to AP News, ICSRA currently advises 100 communities in 23 countries. Cities in Portugal, Malta, Slovakia, Russia and Kenya have also learned from the Planet Youth model.