Marijuana is the most common drug of choice, where in 2013 alone, 7.5 percent of young Americans over the age of twelve (almost 20 million) have used marijuana, a jump of about 6 percent from 2007.
Abuse of other drugs -
including cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens and prescription
painkillers - remained unchanged from 2012 to 2013.
When we look at where America stands overall as far as substance abuse, for both teens and adults, the picture is bleak:
According to a World Health Organization survey of 17 countries, the U.S. topped the list for illicit drug use, where Americans were four times more likely to report using cocaine in their lifetime than the next closest country, New Zealand (16% vs. 4%).
Use of marijuana in the U.S. was also the highest in the world at 42.4%, compared to 41.9% in New Zealand.
Years ago, I was researching the need for nutritionists in California drug rehab centers.
Shocked by the sheer number of such facilities, I quickly realized there's a dark underbelly of drug addiction in America, one most of us aren't aware of - until we have personal experience with a friend or family member with a drug problem, or we're a victim of a drug-fueled crime.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction to tobacco, alcohol, prescription opioids and illicit drugs cost U.S. taxpayers over 740 billion annually in costs related to crime, lost work productivity and health care.
Although a good chunk of money is thrown at the problem - from prevention programs to rehabilitation - substance abuse in the U.S. is still spiraling out of control.
Some blame our crumbling social structures like families, others point a finger at affluence (or the opposite, poverty) - and all would be right.
But the question is:
Many nations around the world are turning to Iceland for answers, where a unique program focused on prevention is yielding outstanding results.
The "Cleanest-Living Teens" in Europe
In the 1990s, Iceland was seeing a sharp increase in drug and alcohol abuse among the country's teenagers.
Needless to say, officials and parents were worried.
And yet today, Iceland tops the European table for the cleanest-living teens.
How did Iceland manage such a complete reversal of drug use?
Laws were changed. The purchase of tobacco under the age of 18, and alcohol under the age of twenty, was now illegal.
A curfew was put in place, prohibiting youth between the ages of 13 and 16 from being outside after 10 PM in winter, midnight during summer.
But the biggest reason for the sharp downward turn of substance abuse was due to increased family time and more emphasis on extracurricular activities.
State funding also increased to support sport and art programs, as well as other clubs.
In Reykjavik, families are given a Leisure Card, worth 35,000 krona ($3,902 US), for each child to be used for recreational activities.
Interestingly, Young reports that after the changes were implemented,
Harvey Milkman, whose research was foundational for the development of the Icelandic program, believes people are on the threshold for abuse,
Kids who are "active confronters" of stress are after a rush - whether it be stealing or through stimulant drugs, while sedative drugs like heroin and alcohol are appealing to those who want to numb anxiety.
His idea sparked another:
So, with a $1.2 million government grant, Milkman and his team developed a program called Project Self-Discovery in Colorado, U.S. that offered a range of different classes for at-risk kids - music, dance, hip hop, art, martial arts - which would trigger alterations in brain chemistry to give them a natural high, whether it was a reduction in anxiety or a rush.
The kids also received life-skill training to help improve thoughts about themselves and others.
After the success of Project Self-Discovery was established, Milkman was invited to Iceland in 1991 to talk about his work, and later became a consultant for a residential drug treatment centre for adolescents in Tindar, Iceland.
By 1999, the nationwide program was established and teens were on there way to finding a natural and healthy high without the use of drugs.
Would this approach work in the U.S.? Milkman says it all depends on the resources of individual communities, because it would be difficult to implement on a federal level.
But when we consider the annual price tag of substance abuse in this country, how can we afford not to?
Likewise, Emma Young asks: