Substance Abuse

Substance Abuse
Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is when one takes alcohol, prescription medicine, cigarettes, and other legal substances excessively or in the wrong way.  Substance-abuse is not limited to abusing legal drugs it also extends to when someone uses illicit drugs like Bhang and other banned substances in Kenya. National Campaign Against Drug Abuse (Nacada) revealed a shocking 23.3 percent of Kenyans are abusing at least one drug.

Substance abuse differs from addiction. Many people who abuse substance are able to quit or can change their unhealthy behavior. Addiction, on the other hand, is a disease.  It means you have developed a habit that is hard to quit without intervention of somebody else.


When one uses psychoactive substances a dependence syndrome develops where they have a strong desire to take that substance and have problems controlling its uses.  If substance abuse is in that level the individual will require help to heal addiction and guidance so they will not relapse after recovery. Canopy of Hope offers dignified addiction recovery and treating substance abuse disorders.

Commonly Abused Drugs in Kenya

Both legal and illegal drugs have chemicals that can alter how your body and mind work. They give you “pleasurable” ease your stress or help you avoid problems in your life. People who are stressed or struggling with other issues in life are most likely to abuse substances to escape reality, this may lead to substance abuse disorders.


Alcohol affects everyone differently. If, you drink excessively and make it a habit, your chance of an injury or accident and eventually suffering from alcoholism are high. Heavy drinking also associated with liver and other health problems or lead to a more serious alcohol disorder. Alcohol is among the most abused drug in Kenya.

According to NACADA Substance Abuse Report 2017, 12.2% 0f Kenyans aged 15-65 are constantly using alcohol. Current use of alcohol is defined as those reporting use lcohol in the last one month. About 16.6% of urban dwellers are current users of various types of alcohol compared to 11.4% of rural dwellers.

Effects of alcohol Abuse

  • Failure to fulfill major obligations at work, school, or home
  • Driving a car or operating machinery will cause accidents leading to injuries or death.
  • Alcohol abuse is the most common cause of liver failure. Alcohol drug can cause heart enlargement and cancer of the esophagus, pancreas, and stomach.

Prescription and Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medicine

These can be just as dangerous and addictive as illegal drugs. You can abuse medicine if you:

  • Take medicine prescribed for someone else
  • Take extra doses or use a drug other than the way it’s supposed to be taken
  • Take the drug for a non-medical reason

Types of prescription drugs that are most often abused include:

  • pain relievers
  • Medicine used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Anxiety medicine

The most commonly abused OTC drugs are cough and cold medicine that have dextromethorphan, which in high doses can make one feel drunk or intoxicated.

There were 1,338 drug-related deaths in Kenya in 2016, as per a review of drug abuse data by Nation Newsplex. The leading cause of the deaths was Opioid abuse a drug used as a pain reliever.


 This group of substances includes solvents that emit vapors, causing intoxication when breathed in (inhaled). Individuals who abuse inhalants intentionally breathe in the vapors, either directly from a container, from a bag in which such a substance is in, or from a rag soaked with the substance and then placed over the mouth or nose.

Inhalants may lead to chemical and temperature burns, as well as withdrawal symptoms, chronic mental illness, and even sudden death. Long-term damage associated with inhalant users includes brain and nerve damage as well as heart, liver, or kidney failure.


Bhang affects the perception of time, distance, and speed. It upsets coordination, causing unsteady hands, a change in gait, uncontrolled laughter, and a lag between thought and facial expressions. Sexual functions are disturbed.

One may suffer illusions and hallucinations, difficulty in recalling events in the immediate past, slowed thinking and narrowed attention span, depersonalization, euphoria, depression, drowsiness, lack of sleep, difficulty in making accurate self-evaluation, a lowering of inhibition, loss of judgment, mental and physical lethargy.

The following are most often substances are abused in Kenya.

  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • Tobacco
  • Prescription drugs 
  • Hallucinogens
  • Cocaine
  • Inhalants

Substance use disorders can lead to multiple behavioral problems, both in the short- and long-term. These effects of drug abuse have serious consequences, like missed work, punishable offenses, accidents, and injuries. Drug abuse may lead one to commit offenses like domestic violence, driving while intoxicated and offenses related to damaged property.

Abusing drugs poses huge risks for pregnant women and unborn babies. Drugs may contain impurities that can be harmful to an unborn baby. Drug use can lead to premature birth or low birth weight.

The most severe health consequences of drug abuse is death.

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