Preventing Drug Abuse by Creating a Cultural Renaissance

How Iceland Prevents Drug Abuse in School Children


If you have ever taught school, especially if you’ve taught all grades from 1-12, you’ve seen the progression of both depression and rebellion. First and second graders are so alive and filled with wonder. They are excited by life and learning. But by the time they’re juniors and seniors, most of the sparkle is gone. They’ve lost their enthusiasm for life. They’re not having fun anymore, not living LIFE anymore, not mastering life skills. They may even be living with harsh, abusive surroundings, with adults who themselves have lost their inner lightness and wholeness. From a life-experience point of view, they have become emotionally scarred. From a biochemistry point of view, their neurochemistry has become damaged, distorted.

Then kids become either depressed or rebellious – closed, shut down, or else intractable, confrontational, and out of control, much like the adults they see around them. When this happens, they get into trouble. They seek some way to cope. Then just like adults, they often turn to drugs. Drugs rather than LIFE becomes the attraction. They may even be put on prescription drugs like Ritalin. Drugs change neurochemistry temporarily to make you feel good (for a little while). But it’s a deception, a trap. We can only make progress with the problem of drug addiction, both with adults and children, when we understand that drug abuse and its solutions are all about neurochemistry.

The underlying cause of addiction is strong emotional attachments and aversions, that is, the desire for pleasure (a high) and the avoidance of pain. This is the basis of all addictions in all its forms – alcohol, prestige, money, sex, food, adrenaline, nicotine, caffeine, cocaine, heroin, you name it. The pleasure and pain centers in the brain are affected by both life experiences and chemical substances like drugs. The solution is to find natural ways to undo the damage of past negative experiences and restore balanced, positive brain chemistry. This is exactly what Iceland did to virtually eliminate drug addiction.

Iceland Figured It Out

Teens in Iceland were once the heaviest substance abusers in the world. Streets in the cities were unsafe as large groups of roving, drunken teenagers took over. It was dangerous for others to go out and about. That all changed when Iceland took action and replaced artificial highs with natural highs. Addiction is how people cope with stress. They want to get high, to feel good. The simple act of replacing artificial, drug-induced highs with natural highs made all the difference. Now Iceland ranks among the lowest in drug abuse. The brain is an amazing pharmaceutical factory that can manufacture its own mind-altering chemicals. A “natural highs” movement was initiated where kids could learn to change their own brain chemistry in positive ways that would benefit both themselves and society.

Happy, Healthy Alternatives

Programs of enjoyable, healthy recreational activities were started. These included classes in art, music, and dance – things children wanted, PLUS a mindfulness meditation program (observing breath and thoughts). The meditation program gave kids the ability to master their own inner mental and emotional state – a crucial and powerful part of the program. Meditation works by normalizing brain chemistry and dissolving the backlog of emotional scars. Positive activities, positive life experiences, reprogram positive emotions and also balance neurochemistry, especially right-brain activities like music, art, and dance. These activities along with meditation create a positive self image and balanced brain chemistry.

Iceland didn’t come to these conclusions without significant study. Once the problem of brain chemistry was understood, Iceland thoroughly investigated finding healthy ways to change brain chemistry. Iceland launched into research using policymakers, researchers, practitioners, school teachers, coaches, nurses, doctors, even corporations. Here’s what they discovered.

Drug Use Correlated With:

  1. Strength and quality of family relationships (poor relationships = high drug use)
  2. Time the family spent together (less time = high drug use)
  3. Quality of the kids’ peer groups (low quality groups = high drug use)
  4. Available positive recreational activities – a significant factor (few opportunities = high drug use)
  5. High stress, including depression, anger, and other negative emotions – underlying causative factor (high stress = high drug use)

The whole country got behind the idea of spending more time with their family. Within 15 years, between 1997 and 2012, family time spent with teens aged 15-16, doubled. Also, government taxes and corporate contributions funded awareness programs and recreational alternatives. The meditation program reduced stress and taught kids how to keep their neurochemistry balanced. Now this approach is being replicated in 17 European countries in 35 different municipalities, but not in the USA. Not yet (as of 2017).

Takeaways from the Icelandic Experience

  1. Meditation dissolves past emotional scars and balances brain chemistry.
  2. Art, music, dance and other right-brain activities improve brain chemistry and create a positive self image.
  3. Life has to be created – Don’t just drift along in a boring lifestyle. Plan your life professionally and recreationally.
  4. What you focus on becomes stronger. Focus on what you want, not what you don’t want.
  5. Give kids better things to do. Have a list of suggestions nearby.
  6. Parents need to do more fun things with their kids much more often.
  7. Teaching and learning new knowledge and skills can be very enjoyable family activities.

Improving on the Icelandic Experience

Here in the USA, we could do even better than Iceland. “The GUIDE” ( includes 15 methods to restore normal neurochemistry instead of only one. And the potential for enjoyable, nurturing activities for kids could be vastly expanded beyond art, music, and dance to create a new cultural renaissance.

The Real Need Is Creativity

Parents and kids working together need to be more creative and come up with ideas to learn and have fun together. Online search is your friend. Search “fun activities for families” and “learning activities for families.” There are amazing opportunities that cost little or nothing. They are not advertised because there’s nothing to sell.

Things to Avoid

Avoid video games. They don’t create family interaction, are competitive, and damage brain chemistry (high beta activity) Avoid passive activities like watching TV, being a couch potato. When there are so many exciting possibilities, why waste so much time with television nonsense?

Opportunity for A Cultural Renaissance

What was learned in Iceland is that parents and children need to spend more quality time together. The return of the essential parental role opens the possibilities for a vast cultural renaissance. The problem is that parents were never trained how to be parents, how to raise exceptional children. The result is that children lack inspiration and their creative possibilities have been stifled. It is unwise to believe that schools can provide the same nurturing as parents. The parental role not only expands the capacities of the child, but the parents, also.

Fulfilling the Purpose of Life Through a Cultural Renaissance

The purpose of life is to know ourselves and the world we live in, to expand the knowledge of who we are and how we relate to the variety of experiences in the world around us. Knowing ourselves means the expansion of consciousness, wisdom, happiness, love, and purpose – our whole inner world. Knowing the world we live in means becoming skilled in the basic arts and sciences.

The most valuable inner experience for knowing ourselves is the experience of stillness, silence. This is the essence of meditation. Pure inner stillness expands consciousness, which is the container of knowledge. It balances and resets neurochemistry. The breath meditation was the unique inner component of the program in Iceland for preventing addictive behavior in children. It is also an essential component for overcoming addiction presented in “The Guide,” the program for overcoming addiction in adults. This essential experience is both preventative and therapeutic.

Learning About the World We Live In – The Arts and Sciences

Reading and direct experience are how we expand our knowledge of the world. Books are the most compact and low-cost method of distributing knowledge. A single book often represents someone’s whole lifetime-learning-experience. Reading books prevents us from having to make all the mistakes ourselves and opens up vistas that we might not discover on our own. What many parents learned through the homeschooling experience is that once children learn how to read, they can explore the world of books on their own. The essential role of the parent then becomes one of loving inspiration and encouragement for the child to pursue their inner wisdom and life purpose.

Experience is gained by doing. This is true for both the arts and the sciences, but especially the arts. Drawing, painting, visualizing, inventing, playing musical instruments, and dancing all develop creativity and dexterity in interacting with the physical world. They stimulate right-brain intuitive capacities. It was a huge loss when these activities were removed from the schools in favor of only teaching the sciences.

Creating a New Cultural Renaissance

The moveable-type printing press was invented in 1440. It took from 50 to 100 years for books to be printed in increasing numbers. With the greater availability of books, knowledge of the arts and sciences began to spread. The peak of the Italian Renaissance was from the 1490’s to 1527. This was the time of the great early artistic masters: Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), Michelangelo (1475-1564), and Raphael (1483-1520). Then followed the great scientific awakening from 1543 into the 1700’s with: Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1726), then on to James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879), and Nikola Tesla (1857-1943). All this was possible because of the spread of knowledge.

The Internet is the new printing press. Today we have access to the great literature from past centuries as well as the latest scientific discoveries. It is all at our fingertips. The problem is that few people today are willing to read and continue learning into adulthood. Forced learning during our school days (with harsh penalties for failure) makes most of us unwilling to even open a book. Yet, when we can learn at our own pace without recriminations, we can really enjoy expanding self knowledge and the fascinating knowledge of the world around us. To create a new cultural renaissance, we need to return to our childlike curiosity and explore the infinite possibilities before us. We can do it with and for our children. A love of learning can make us and our children wise, intelligent, compassionate, and the master of any discipline we choose. Can you imagine the possibilities if every adult and child could reach their full potential? Inner and outer development go together. It’s worth exploring.

Disciplines to Explore Together as a Family

When choosing family activities, ask yourself: Does it expand lightness, joy, and freedom or does it promote addictive behavior. Is it expanding or contracting? For instance, many video games stimulate adrenaline and obsession. These cause the body and mind to contract in tension due to higher stress levels. Self-paced learning in a light, enjoyable environment that promotes free exploration is expanding. Forced learning, conducted in a restricted, time-limited, and threatening environment (graded), is contracting, stifling because it is stress-inducing.

This doesn’t mean that all learning will be easy. Learning a musical instrument is challenging, but when learned in a self-paced, nurturing environment, it is also rewarding. (Read “Nurtured by Love” by Shin'ichi Suzuki, founder of the famous Suzuki method of musical instruction.) In general, from a neurological point of view, relaxed states with their corresponding theta and alpha brainwave frequencies promote mental and emotional balance and easier learning, high beta frequencies, induced under high stress cause contraction and frustration in learning. Forced learning causes a loss of memory capacity.

Activities to Make Life More Enjoyable, Creative, and Enriching

Indoor Activities

Learning About the Various Arts and Sciences

The Arts: Drawing, painting, visualizing, inventing, creativity in any field
Music and Dance: Learn musical instruments and many forms of dance, or the fun of playful unstructured free-form dance
Natural Sciences, Life Sciences: Anatomy, Botany, Biology, Biochemistry, Ecology, Agronomy, Agriculture
Earth Sciences: Geology, Geography, Meteorology, Oceanography, and Astronomy
Health Sciences: Naturopathy, Nutrition, Herbology, Essential Oils, Acupressure, Bioenergy Sciences, Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine
Hard Sciences: Physics, Engineering, Mathematics, Structural Sciences, Architecture, Electronics, 3D Modeling & Printing
Information Sciences: Computer Sciences, Computer Graphics, Databases, Internet Technologies
Communication Sciences: Language Skills – diction, grammar, composition (short stories, articles, books, documentaries, etc.), public speaking, audio and video production
Philosophy and Spirituality: Study the great philosophies and spiritual literature from all the world’s traditions

How could anyone become bored when there are so many fascinating things to learn about in our world. With children, simply expose them to possibilities and let them choose their interests to explore.

Read Stories Together

Take turns reading. Story time can be a great way to learn about life. (Project Gutenberg has about 55,000 free ebooks online.) Your library has free books and free ebooks. Ask a librarian to help you.
To find titles, search online. For example, search “Ancient stories that teach morals and values” or “Ancient history.”
(Generally, the longer a book has survived, the more life value it contains.) Classic books are usually free as ebooks.
Simple classic stories such as Aesop’s Fables can be useful for learning life lessons, values, and morals. Biographies of great people are also valuable. Non-fiction books are great for practical skills.

Practical Knowledge and Skills

Typing, computer skills, programming, photography, video production, graphic design & layout, digital art, digital music, 3D-design & print (Maker Movement), book clubs, art & crafts, sewing, indoor gardening, healthy food preparation, natural healthcare, meditation groups, yoga, visit museums, visit the library … the list is practically endless.

Outdoor Activities

Hiking, gardening, community gardens, ecological activities (clean up, beautification, planting flowers, hardscaping), non-competitive games, non-competitive sports (search these terms). Most sports and games have only one winner and everyone else is a loser — not a good model for building self esteem or for positive shared experiences). Some examples: Off-road bicycling, scavenger hunts, photo hunts), outdoor photography, bird & plant identification, geology, Frisbee, Frisbee golf, Geocaching, orienteering, astronomy star party … again the list is endless. Use your creativity and online searching skills.
Sources for ideas:

Articles to read about Iceland and reducing drug abuse: