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What You need to know About Khat Addiction

There has been quite a bit of controversy over the need for khat addiction treatment. Many people believe that khat is an herb that is chewed or used as a tea to encourage concentration. Others believe that it is a stimulant drug, similar to amphetamine but slightly less potent. The arguments over khat addiction are along cultural lines. The U.S. Justice Department and the international medical community both conclude that khat is an addictive substance. Users should be treated for the addiction before the long-term effects of the drug damage the body.

How is Khat Used?

Khat is a shrub grown in the Middle East and Eastern Africa. The leaves and stems of the plant are chewed by addicts who span the globe. The National Institute on Drug Use estimates that there are 10 million khat users around the globe. Men tend to use the drug more than women. A study in Yemen found that 82 percent of men admitted to using khat at some point in their lifetimes. Only 43 percent of women said that they had used the drug before. Not all users are addicts; however, khat is a highly addictive drug, and khat addiction treatment is often required to stop using this substance.

Warning Signs of Addiction

The drug contains cathinone and cathine, two stimulant chemicals that helped classify the drug as illegal for use in the US. The stimulants in khat are also the culprits behind that rush that users feel when the drug is absorbed into the bloodstream. When that occurs, the addict immediately feels the following symptoms and signs of addiction:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Energy increase
  • Aggression
  • Alertness
  • Fever
  • Paranoia

These signs of khat addiction usually begin to subside about 90 minutes after the leaves and stems are chewed or drank. The high can linger for three to 24 hours, depending on the potency of the khat and intensity of the addiction. Once the high subsides, the user crashes. This results in feelings of anxiety, depression, extreme fatigue, suicidal thoughts and heart arrhythmia.

What are Long-Term Effects of Using?

A true khat addiction takes hold quickly. The addict may feel invincible and energized. The euphoria that accompanies these feelings keeps the addict coming back for more. Like other stimulants, however, the continuous use of the drug leads to a tolerance that builds with each use. This tolerance means that a user requires more of the drug in order to reach a high. Gradually, addicts build to using high doses of khat with greater frequency. Over time, the result can produce:

  • Decayed, worn teeth
  • Severe depression
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Infertility in men
  • Anorexia
  • Dehydration and malnutrition from not eating
  • Seizures
  • Heart attacks
  • Kidney damage
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Loss of motivation

Khat addiction treatment can help address these symptoms before they become permanent. First, the body must get rid of its dependence on the drug. As the khat chemicals leave the brain, the body goes through changes to adjust. These are withdrawal symptoms. It is best to experience them under the care of medical professionals inside a khat addiction treatment program. This ensures addicts stay safe and comfortable during the detox process.

Various Withdrawal Symptoms

Supporters of khat tend to overlook the withdrawal symptoms, despite the fact that they can be serious in heavy users. Like other stimulant withdrawals, the withdrawal symptoms are like a prolonged low experienced after the extreme high of the stimulant. Khat withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Extremely vivid nightmares
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Loss of interest in any activity
  • Sedentary existence
  • Severe depression

Left untreated, these feelings can lead to death, but not from the drug itself. Suicide is the most common cause of death associated with excessive khat use. Fortunately, khat withdrawal symptoms can be managed or even avoided by undergoing detox in a treatment facility.

The Detox and Rehab Process

“Rehab is about managing cravings for the drug and learning to cope with life without getting high.”A khat addiction treatment program is similar to a treatment program for a stimulant addiction. The addict undergoes detox where antidepressant and anti-anxiety drugs may be administered to prevent the most severe withdrawal symptoms caused by the depression. The addict’s heart, breathing and kidney functions are monitored so that any functional issues are caught and treated immediately — before any chronic damage is done. In a few days to a week, the addict can leave detox and enter khat rehab.

Rehab is about managing cravings for the drug and learning to cope with life without getting high. Khat users can accomplish this through group therapy and individual talk therapy sessions with trained mental health workers. The goal also includes getting to the underlying issues behind the addiction in an effort to prevent the need for the drug in the future. After 60 to 90 days of khat rehab, the addict can re-enter the world, with a renewed sense of recovery and focus. Addicts continue their recovery using periodic group therapy sessions and scheduled individual sessions. Some addicts use antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications after leaving a khat addiction treatment facility, as these drugs can help keep long-term depression at bay.

Getting the Help You Need

Call us at to find help and hope for the khat addict in your life. The cultural debate over the addiction may be a barrier to treatment, but we can help. We have the tools, resources and support you will need to help the addict into a khat addiction treatment program and on to the road to recovery.


  • The nightmares experienced in khat withdrawals are called “dukak” by Ethiopian users.
  • Khat contains over 40 chemicals including the two stimulants, and these chemicals also harm the body.
  • Over 64 percent of Ethiopians use khat recreationally.
  • Khat is illegal in the US, but is not listed on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s controlled substance list.
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