Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Dark Side of the Icelandic Model

Recently, we posted an article about the seemingly successful Youth in Iceland strategy for reducing teen substance abuse. To wit, since 1997, the consumption of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, and other substances among 15-16 year olds has plummeted theremore so than any other nation, according to surveys.  And in fact, by 2016, Iceland was able to boast having the cleanest-living teens in the industrialized world, in contrast from being home to Europe's heaviest-drinking teens twenty years ago.

This was done through a combination of things: 1) laws were changed to raise the age of majority from 16 to 18, raise the smoking age for tobacco to 18 and the drinking age to 20, and set a 10 pm curfew law for people under 16, 2) most parents pledging to basically close ranks and keep their kids on a fairly tight leash overall, at least by European standards, and 3) the government investing in providing sports and other recreational activities for young people to give them something to do as a healthy alternative to drugs or alcohol.   And while not explicitly considered a part of the strategy, Iceland's very high alcohol taxes no doubt played a role as well.  We at Twenty-One Debunked noted how this strategy was a mixed bag and would support it if (and only if) it could be done without the ageism/adultism, like Kaunas, Lithuania (and some other cities) supposedly was able to do.

But one thing we did not look at right away was what happens when Icelandic youth finally do come of age.  The surveys used to support the Icelandic Prevention Model are of 15-16 year olds, but curiously the model's supporters don't even mention any data for people just a few years older.  Surely there should be a positive spillover or at least a cohort effect that follows youth exposed to the strategy if the ageists' theories are correct, so such a glaring omission is very curious indeed.

We think we know why.  For adults, Iceland is in fact one of the drunkest and druggiest countries in the world.  This is particularly true for prescription pills:  they seem to lead the world (or at least Europe) in the use/abuse of opioid painkillers, sedatives, tranquilizers, and stimulants.  And such drugs, particularly opioids, have been on the rise lately even as they have fallen in many other countries.  And despite fairly strict drug laws, the use of illicit drugs, both cannabis as well as hard drugs, have also increased significantly recent years as well. Iceland also notably leads the world in antidepressant use, and is also on the increase, which can be true for a number of reasons.   Though their overall per-capita alcohol consumption is below the OECD average, it has nonetheless risen 35% since 1992 despite recent alcohol tax hikes, and when they do drink, they really drink themselves into oblivion--kinda like stereotypical American college freshmen.  Of course, Iceland was already kind of like that before the Youth in Iceland strategy began in 1998, as well as for cohorts that came of age before that, but the fact that such widespread substance use/abuse has held steady or increased for the cohorts of adults that were affected by the law changes shows just how hollow the whole thing really was.

Oh, and for those who think that America's so-called "hook-up culture" among young people is out of control, well, let's just say that you've never been to Iceland.  And not just for young people either.  Over there it seems that "f**k first, names later" is the norm, often literally, and they are usually under the influence of alcohol when they do it.  Not to knock casual sex per se, or to shame anyone for it, but it is nonetheless sobering to note that Iceland leads Europe in terms of STD's, or at least chlamydia in particular, a disease that has even been nicknamed the "Reykjavik Handshake".  So apparently many Icelanders are getting so wasted that they fail to use condoms as directed, if at all, when they hook up.

In other words, the otherwise-progressive Iceland has basically become Little America in that regard, and not necessarily in a good way either.  That is what happens when ageists in power focus only on young people while ignoring the pink elephant in the room--the behavior of their elders.  The contrast between "abstain from everything" adolescence and "anything goes" adulthood couldn't be any more stark, and simply raising age limits or revoking civil rights from young people merely kicks the proverbial can down the road.  It's the Law of Eristic Escalation in action:  imposition of order leads to escalation of chaos/disorder, particularly if the order in question imposed is arbitrary and/or coercive. Renowned sociologist and youth-rights activist Mike Males would surely have a field day with Iceland!


  1. When the misbehavior of older people is tolerated while the behavior of girls and boys is scrutnized, then the results would be reminiscent of Iceland and the United States. Girls and boys see the behavior of older people as the model of life that is expected of themselves. For Iceland to advance in this regard then, older people should be scrutinized for for their behavior.

  2. Amen to that! I couldn't have said it better myself. The prevailing attitude of "Do as I say, not as I do" is practically the definition of hypocrisy.

  3. With the hypocrisy in both Iceland and in the U.S., positive results can't be reached. Girls and boys copy older people because that's what a society is organized around. There can't be an age separation to separate behaviors because that's not how societies work like.

  4. I'm from Iceland (currently in the UK), and I just want to touch on a few of the points you made.

    It's true that 'recorded' alcohol consumption has increased in Iceland, but this is due to better recording. Beer consumption was largely unrecorded before 1989. It was banned, but people just brewed their own. We also got around the ban by adding a few extra ingredients and calling it ale. And it wasn't recorded in the statistics. This is also the reason why we have so many varieties of beer and ale today. Just check out Borg or Egils Breweries.

    Here is the crucial point. Kids in Iceland don't drink, not because they can't, but because they don't want to. We raise and condition them not to want to, and they are very happy and healthy. We don't have that 'forbidden fruit' effect that you do in America, nor much drinking on college campuses. Yes, the 'drinking age' here is 20, it is an effective guideline, but it is not enforced in the way you may assume. We don't have 'rigorous' ID checks. We tried that, but people would just leave the money on the counter and walk out with the drink. And we don't have underage drinking gestapos like you have in America. That's not the way we do things here.

    Some Icelanders do drink in binges, this is true, but they are not representative of the entire population. And please find me a country where there is no binge-drinking or alcohol abuse. We in Iceland like to keep our bodies 'clean' most of the time. We feel better this way, and so regular drinking like they do in southern Europe doesn't appeal to us. And to be honest, it really isn't good for you to have alcohol in your system all the time.

    And yes, we Icelanders enjoy sex. We believe it is healthy, natural, and we are not at all prudish about it. Some kids used to have sex while drunk, yes, but this was in the past. Now they have sex while sober. This is both safer and more enjoyable.

    It's wrong to lambaste Iceland. Most people do so out of envy.

    I know how you feel about your system in America, it's truly messed up. If anything, Iceland shows that a different way is possible. You really could learn from us and we could help you fix your dilemmas.

    I would love to speak with you. I think we could have some interesting discussions. Email me at Or call me at 02032892456.