Want to keep kids off drugs? Give them something to do, prof says

Psychologist Harvey Milkman said a focus on giving youth opportunities to participate in activities led to a dramatic decrease in drug use in Iceland. (Joe Mahoney/Canadian Press)

A psychologist speaking at a Department of Health cannabis symposium in Fredericton says it takes more than just education on drug use to keep youth from consuming drugs.

Harvey Milkman, a drug researcher and professor of psychology at Metropolitan State University in Denver and Reykjavik University in Iceland, said introducing youth to “natural highs” that come from sports, music and arts are important to keeping kids off drugs.

“The best approach to prevention is … helping people to see that there are better things to do,” said Milkman.

“Education has its limitations,” he added. “It’s necessary, but it’s not sufficient.”

Milkman has seen first hand how drugs can affect a nation’s youth and how activities can reduce drug use.

While at Reykjavik University in the late 1990s, Milkman said Icelandic youth were using drugs and alcohol at an alarming rate, which caused societal issues.

“We had 42 per cent of the teenagers getting drunk within the last 30 days.

“I mean getting drunk. Drinking five or more in a row and getting really raucous and not really comfortably navigating the streets of Reykjavik.”

Activities curbed use

Sports, music and art are some of the activities that are offered to help keep youth from abusing drugs.(Radio-Canada )


Milkman said increased alcohol, tobacco and cannabis use among Icelandic teens led to a sense that something needed to be done.

“The society just reached a boiling point and decided to make some changes,” he said.

Milkman said the government aggressively pushed youth to participate in after-school activities, funded by the state, in areas of sports, art and music.

The results of those moves were dramatic.

“We went from 45 per cent of the population that was abusing alcohol … now it’s down to seven per cent,” said Milkman

“Cigarettes have gone from 23 per cent to three per cent. [Cannabis] has gone also from 17 per cent to two per cent.”

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