Prevalence and factors associated with use of khat: A survey of patients entering HIV treatment programs in Ethiopia

Alan R. Lifson, Sale Workneh, Tibebe Shenie, Desalegn Admassu Ayana, Zenebe Melaku, Lemlem Bezabih, Hiwot Tekle Waktola, Behailu Dagne, Rose Hilk, Ken C. Winters, Lucy Slater

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12 Scopus citations


Background: Khat, a plant native to East Africa, has psychoactive constituents similar to amphetamine. Chronic khat use can lead to psychological dependence with multiple physical and mental health harms, complicating clinical management of people living with HIV. In two Ethiopian cities where khat is common, we evaluated prevalence and correlates of khat use among patients new to HIV care. Methods: During 2013-2014, we surveyed 322 patients recently enrolled in HIV clinics in Dire Dawa and Harar about khat use, demographics, smoking and alcohol use, clinical illness, food insecurity, and social support. We analyzed factors associated with khat use in the past year, as well as heaviest use of khat (based on greatest number of hours used in a typical month). Results: 242 (75%) respondents reported lifetime khat use; 209 (65%) reported khat use during the previous year. 54% of khat users started before age 19 years. Although 84% believed that using khat every day is dangerous for health if you have HIV, khat was used in the previous year a median of 5 h/days and 30 days/month; 21% said they felt a need to cut down or control their khat use but had difficulty doing so. Those using khat were more likely to report smoking (46%) and alcohol use (49%) compared to non-khat users (1 and 31% respectively). Those reporting heaviest khat use (≥180 h/typical month) were more likely to rate their health status as poor, have an underweight BMI (≤18.5 kg/m2), report more symptoms of chronic illness, and agree with more statements indicating a negative physical quality of life. In multivariate analysis, heavy users were more likely to be male, Muslim, and non-married. Conclusions: Khat use was common among HIV patients entering care, and associated with symptoms of poorer physical health. Over half started khat use when they were young. Although most believed khat is harmful for HIV patients, a number of respondents reported some difficulty controlling their drug use. In settings where khat is legal and widely utilized, developing interventions for responsible use represent an important health priority as part of comprehensive care for people living with HIV.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3
JournalAddiction Science and Clinical Practice
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 19 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 The Author(s).


  • Amphetamine
  • Ethiopia
  • HIV
  • Khat
  • Sub-Saharan Africa


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