Drug abuse

Drug and Substance Abuse in Kenya.

Drug abuse is an intense desire to obtain increasing amounts of a particular substance or substances to the exclusion of all other activities.

Drug dependence is the body's physical need, or addiction, to a specific agent. Over the long term, this dependence results in physical harm, behaviour problems, and association with people who also abuse drugs. Stopping the use of the drug can result in a specific withdrawal syndrome.

Drug and substance abuse is a global problem and is one of the major problems affecting the youth both in school and out of school. This problem impacts negatively on the academic, social,psychological, economical and physiological development among the abusers. The menace of drugs has strangled the youthful population reducing them to dummies, zombies and drooling figures only to waste out the prime of their lives when they are most needed to invest their
energy in worthy nation building ventures.

The menace has strangled the youthful population who are wasting away their prime lives instead of investing their energy and time to building the nation. Drug trafficking has hit a crisis level in Kenya and this has seen the deportation of foreigners suspected to be involved in drug trafficking, with orders from the President.

According to National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NACADA), most Kenyans are primarily using intoxicating substances such as alcohol, tobacco, miraa/khat, marijuana/bhang, controlled substances, heroin, cocaine and prescription drugs including HIV and AIDS prescriptions.

Fig.1 Rolls of Bhang ready for sale         Fig.2 Miraa Chewing                                      Fig.3 Consficated drugs at the port.

A Nacada survey in 2012 showed that four million Kenyans use alcoholic drinks, 2.7 million take tobacco products while 1.6 million chew miraa or khat. Findings from a National Survey on Alcohol and Drug Abuse conducted,13.3% of Kenyans are currently using alcohol, 9.1% tobacco, 1.0% bhang and 0.1% heroin.

  • Overall, bhang is the most easily available illicit drug in the country at 49% followed by cocaine while heroin is the least available illicit drug in the country;
  • Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance in the country and poses the greatest harm to Kenyans as evidenced by the numerous calamities associated with excessive consumption and adulteration of illicit brews;
  • Among the different types of alcoholic drinks, traditional liquor is the most easily accessible type of alcohol followed by wines and spirits and lastly chang’aa;
  • 30 % of Kenyans aged 15-65 have ever consumed alcohol in their life; 13.3% of Kenyans currently consume alcohol that means that at least 4 million people. 
  • Traditional liquor is still more likely to have been consumed by rural children than urban children. More children in rural areas are likely to have ever consumed chang’aa than those in urban areas.
  • The current use of all intoxicating substances is higher among men than women; for instance, the current usage of tobacco is largely limited to males except in North Eastern Province. Comparatively, the survey showed that 17% of men smoke tobacco while only 2.1% of women use tobacco products.
  • Since the last survey in 2007, it is noted there has been a decline in the use of cigarettes, tobacco. Worrying, though is that the median age of first use of all drugs has gone as low as 10 years.

Effects of these drugs are devastating and most family units have been rendered dysfunctional, users have shunned their conjugal responsibilities to their spouses, occurrence of severe health conditions is escalating and there has been an increase is school drop outs.

In addition, mental retardation is being reported, declined productivity of those addicted to drugs is undeniable, irritability, anxiety, paranoia and violence could be partially traced to drug use and abuse and not to mention recent numerous cases of bestiality.

According to a rapid assessment of drug abuse by the government of Kenya in partnership with the United Nations International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP), drug abuse has permeated all strata of Kenyan society, but the youth and young adults are the most affected groups.

Substances can be taken into the body in several ways:

  • Oral ingestion (swallowing).
  • Inhalation (breathing in) or smoking.
  • Injection into the veins (shooting up).
  • Depositing onto the mucosa (moist skin) of the mouth or nose (snorting).

Fig.4 Drug injections in veins                Fig.5 Inhilating drugs through smoking.   Fig.6 Sniffing drugs

Some of the commonly abused substances in Kenya are:

  • Alcohol.
  • Tobacco.
  • Marijuana.
  • Inhalants and Solvents.
  • Heroin.
  • Cocaine.
  • Prescriptive Drugs- including sex enhancement drugs.

Fig.7 Consficated bhang as it was being transported.

Causes of Drug Abuse in Kenya

  • Peer influence.
  • Unemplyment and low education.
  • False ideas and perceptions. e.g. bhang enhances academic performance.
  • Lack of knowledge of drugs.
  • Curiosity.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Media influence (TV, magazines, internet).
  • Rebellion against parents, teachers, religion etc
  • Frustrations from home, school, body changes etc.
  • Poor role models .
  • Inability to achieve goals set thus feeling like a failure.

 Effects of Drug Abuse in Kenya

  • Poor memory.
  • Reduced reasoning capacity.
  • Truancy and poor performance in school, sports and other activities.
  • Poor concentration.
  • Dropping out of school.
  • Suspension and expulsion from schools .
  • Risky sexual behavior leading to early pregnancy & HIV/AIDS.
  •  Crimes like theft,violence,rape,incest,bestiality(sex with animals) leading to legal implications .
  • Poor health.
  • Personal neglect.
  • Withdrawal and isolation from society.
  • Being shunned by the society .
  • Personal guilt.
  • Poor relations with parents, teachers, siblings and peers .
  • Physical and psychological addiction .
  • Overdose of drugs can lead to DEATH.

 Preventive Strategies to Drug Abuse in Kenya.

  • Involve yourself in pleasurable activities like games, drama, clubs and societies etc.
  • Develop a good reading culture .
  • Apply critical thinking e.g. asking yourself,why am I doing this?
  • What for? What are the consequences of my actions?
  • Develop mechanisms for dealing with difficulties, issues .
  • Choose friends wisely .
  • Develop your personal potential such as creativity,
  • Appreciate, love and accept yourself as you are .
  • Identify and pursue your purpose in life .
  • Self awareness: identify your capabilities, strength, limitations, weaknesses and appreciate them .
  • Be aware of your physical, mental and emotional changes taking place during adolescence and learn to cope.


Drug Addiction Treatment.

Drug addiction is a complex disease. It is a chronic, relapsing brain disease and involves a combination of ecological, physiological and historical factors. It is not voluntary behavior and is often a fatal illness.

Addiction treatment and rehabilitation in Kenya is largely a private sector and NGO affair dating back to 1978. Treatment and rehabilitation centers are few, operate in a policy vacuum and are expensive for the majority of Kenyans. The development of the National Standards by NACADA and stakeholders, training of professionals on treatment and counseling and developing the credentialing system for addiction professionals are milestones in treatment and rehabilitation.

Treatment services and opportunities may include detoxification, substitution or maintenance therapy and/or psychosocial therapies and counseling.

The key to treatment is stopping the abuse of the drugs or substances.

Agitated or violent people need physical restraint and may need sedating medications in the emergency department until the effects of the drugs wear off. This can be disturbing for the person to experience and for family members to witness. Medical professionals go to great lengths to use as little force and as few medications as possible. It is important to remember that whatever the medical staff does, it is to protect the person.

Withdrawal from some drugs can cause a lot of problems, and stopping these drugs should only be done under the supervision of a doctor. Withdrawal from other agents, such as narcotics, is uncomfortable but generally not harmful, and the doctor will give medicine to reduce the side effects.

Counselling programs may be suggested. These programs are helpful to some people.


The Duration of Treatment

Depends on patient problems/needs. Less than 90 days is of limited/no effectiveness for residential/outpatient setting. Mostly longer treatment is often indicated.

Medical Detoxification

Detoxification safely manages the physical symptoms of withdrawal and any symptoms of psychiatric and emotional disorders.  It is only the first stage of addiction treatment. Alone, it does little to change long-term drug use. The Focus on stabilization and takes a couple of days, usually 3 to 10.


  • Refers to the process by which a person presenting with a substance related problem achieves an optimal state of health psychological functioning and social well being devoid of substance abuse.
  • The process may also be rehabilitation depending on clients needs.
  • Typically follows detoxification and, if required, other medical and psychiatric treatment occurs.
  • It encompasses a variety of approaches which may include psycho education ,group therapy, family therapy, specific behavior therapies to prevent relapse, involvement with a self-help group, residence in a therapeutic community or halfway house, vocational and survival skills training. There is an expectation of social reintegration into the wider community.
  • The approaches used often depend on the model used.


  • A broad range of community-based service supports designed to maintain benefits when structured treatment has been completed.
  • It may involve a continuation of individual or group counseling and other supports, but usually at a lower intensity and often by other agencies.
  • Self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are  important providers of aftercare services