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Iceland has solved youth alcohol problems. But what about at university?

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How does the Youth in Iceland project affect the drinking culture at Icelandic universities? Source: Shutterstock.com

Iceland has the title of cleanest-living teenagers in Europe. How did they earn it? Their Youth in Iceland programme.

But it wasn’t always like this. The programme was launched in the 1990s when 42 percent of 15 and 16-year-olds were getting drunk at least once a month. In comparison, this figure was at just five percent in 2016. The number of young people who have ever used cannabis has also dropped from 17 percent to 7 percent; and smokers are down from 23 percent to just 3 percent.

The programme was so successful it has now been adopted by many other European countries. They call it Youth in Europe.

But do those clean-living teenagers grow up to become clean-living adults? How does their attitude translate into university culture?

We spoke to one Russian international student studying in Iceland on the impact he has seen the Youth in Iceland project make on university life.

“Let me begin with a thesis that responsibility is a cornerstone for adults when it [comes] to alcohol,” Andrei Menshenin, a journalist currently studying at University of Iceland told Study International. “Keeping this idea in mind, I would say that the culture of drinking alcohol in Iceland is quite high.”

Menshenin detailed the number of bars available to students, including an on-campus student bar at UI, “where any student, professor or just visitor from outside could get […] wasted”.

“The bar is open during class hours too,” Menshenin said. However, he added he had never encountered anyone drunk on campus during lectures or exams.

“UI campus and dorms are only 10-20 minutes by foot from most popular bars of Reykjavik. So, enticement is obvious.”

Despite the obvious availability of alcohol at university, Menshenin claimed it is far from an epidemic. “I know [many] Icelandic students who prefer [to spend] time without alcohol and it’s still fun.”

The Youth in Iceland, according to Menshenin, stemmed from Icelandic youngsters feeling there was a lack of alternative activities to drink or drugs usage. Yet now, Iceland’s youth are offered a multitude of alternatives, and so they struggle to find time for much else. Naturally, the project filters into university life.

“I can say that UI itself [is] trying to motivate student[s] for self-development. My university email every day is full [of] news about different activities.”

And Menshenin believes it is working. “I can see it’s not just a noise, it really works when it comes to mak[ing] students busy with something useful,” he said. “Most of my university mates, both Icelandic and foreigners, are busy most of the time, so it’s literally difficult to go out for a party.”

“I think, the programme forms basic culture altitudes, which start to work when teens grow up to [be university] students.”

Menshenin achieved a BA in Journalism at St. Petersburg State University in Russia before joining the University of Iceland in 2016.

He claimed nobody “cares about alcohol consumption [on] campus there [in Russia]”.

Menshenin told Study International there is a huge contrast in the culture surrounding alcohol in Russia compared with Iceland. It’s “completely different,” he said.

“Alcohol is just a way to spend time in university, officially being a student” in Russia, Menshenin asserted. “I think, Russia doesn’t do anything,” he said.

“I would say, there are some similar premises [between Russia and Iceland], considering [the] long winter nights and cold climate, but in Iceland they care about youth [enough] to prevent abuse.”

Young Icelandics had a serious problem with binge drinking, smoking and drug use, similar to the current situation in Russia, Menshenin said. “It’s a nice example how this can be overcome.”

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