Icelanders do not necessarily drink any more or less than residents of other developed countries. Furthermore, the rates of alcoholism in Iceland are about the same as other countries with similar populations and cultures. However, the country does embrace alcoholism and its treatment in a much more open way than you will find just about anywhere else in the world. Indeed, alcohol rehab in Iceland is celebrated for its forward-thinking attitudes.

It used to be that alcohol and drug rehab in Iceland was virtually non-existent. Back in the 1970s, for example, Icelandic addicts had to travel to cities like London and New York for treatment. National health insurance covered the treatments, so it was not unusual for addicts to travel abroad. Then the Icelandic government got smart. As long as they were paying for treatment, they decided to bring it home rather than continuing to send addicts overseas.

The result of this concerted effort has led to an Icelandic system that is among the best globally. Recovery rates are extraordinarily high and prevention efforts have led to a dramatic decrease in the number of young people using alcohol and drugs. Their entire system is built on the philosophy of treating alcohol addiction as no different than any other illness or disease.

How Alcohol Rehab in Iceland Works

The Icelandic system for alcohol rehab is primarily the domain of the Centre for Addiction Medicine. The centre has been running drug and alcohol rehab programmes for more than three decades. They operate addiction recovery hospitals around the country, among them the well-known Vogur Hospital in Reykjavik.

A typical rehab programme begins with a 10-day inpatient detox that is medically supervised at all times. Depending on the patient’s individual assessment, the detox treatment will be followed with either several weeks of inpatient psychotherapy or supplemental outpatient counselling complemented by 12-step fellowship participation.

The success of the hospital-based treatment is such that rehab programmes can involve long waiting times. First-time patients are given preference when there are not enough beds, but it can still take months to get into a formal treatment programme. The Centre for Addiction Medicine is currently working on the situation. They are attempting to raise the funding necessary to expand facilities and treatment programmes.

Medical Treatment at an Iceland Rehab Centre

One of the most profound differences between rehab in Iceland and what is found in other places is the underlying philosophy behind it. Not only do they approach alcoholism and other addictions as illnesses, but they go out of their way to create an environment suitable to that approach. For example, treatment facilities in Iceland are not known as ‘rehab clinics’ or ‘rehab centres’. They are officially designated as hospitals.

Another example of the cultural attitudes can be found in the residential setting itself. Patients enrolled in residential treatment are required to wear hospital gowns or pyjamas for the duration of their stay. Residential units are designed the same way units in other hospitals are designed. In short, the only difference between an addiction hospital and a ‘standard’ hospital is the illness being treated. The environment is virtually the same.

This means of addressing alcoholism has virtually eliminated the stigma of seeking treatment. Icelanders struggling with alcohol see themselves as ill and in need of treatment the same as a person suffering from heart disease or cancer. They seek out that treatment with very little guilt or self-consciousness.

National health insurance fully funds detox and outpatient treatments. Patients in need of longer residential care are responsible for funding a portion of that care, but not the entire bill as national health insurance covers most of it. If legislation currently being considered eventually becomes law, future alcohol treatments will be funded almost entirely through an alcohol tax, thereby eliminating the need for patients to pay anything at all.

Avoiding Future Drug Addiction Problems

The point of undergoing alcohol rehab in Iceland is the same as it is here: to get the treatments necessary to lead an alcohol-free life after treatment. Hospitals do not want to see a patient relapse and return for a second round of rehab. So, just as a UK rehab centre would utilise multiple psychotherapeutic treatments to uncover the underlying causes addictive behaviour and create coping skills to prevent relapse, the Icelandic system follows the same general practice. But there is an added element to the Icelandic system that is proving very successful.

Iceland developed a campaign more than a decade ago designed to encourage young people to stay away from alcohol. They started by working with kids who were already drinking, offering to enrol them in various programmes that would teach them anything they wanted to know. Some chose sports, others chose art, and so on. The goal was to encourage these young people to seek out ‘natural highs’ based on their own accomplishments and passions rather than through drinking.

This strategy has been so successful that it has dramatically reduced teenage drinking in the country. Now that same philosophy is being adopted by the addiction recovery community. Iceland’s addiction hospitals are combining psychotherapeutic treatments with training programmes aimed at helping patients pursue their passions. Such pursuits give each patient something tangible to permanently replace alcohol consumption.

Getting Rehab in Iceland

It is important for us to state that getting into rehab in Iceland takes a bit of work. As previously stated, some of the nation’s hospitals have waiting times of up to 4 to 6 months depending on the available beds. Also bear in mind that first-time patients are always given priority. Having said that, it never hurts to check if you are considering travelling abroad for treatment.

It is clear that they are doing something right in Iceland. People are voluntarily going to rehab and succeeding in maintaining sobriety. At the same time, prevention specialists are reducing the likelihood of young people drinking and using drugs. What they are doing is proof positive that anyone who wants to conquer an alcohol addiction can do so with the right treatments and a good support system.

Whether you are hoping for treatment in Iceland or here in the UK, we encourage you to contact Addiction Helper. We are here to assist you in locating a rehab clinic that is right for you.