In the slums of Kenya, changaa (or chang’aa) is a popular and potent alcoholic drink, and brewing it is a livelihood for many. Changaa means “kill me quickly,” and considering the drink’s high alcohol content, this name is not too far off. It is often adulterated or “cut” with other more poisonous compounds, including jet fuel, embalming fluid, and even battery acid. These substances are meant to speed up the fermentation process but can also lead to adverse side effects when consumed. Below is more on changaa side effects and why it’s so popular.
Changaa is often made in homes and villages in Kenya using seeds, grains, distilled maize, millet, fruit, vegetables, or palm sap and is believed to make up the highest proportion of alcohol abuse in Africa.1 The drink may also be made with female clothing stained with menstrual blood.
This drink is sold in old tins, plastic tubs, or reused bottles. Although brewing and selling traditional drinks in Kenya is illegal, drinking changaa is one of the most common pastimes during many social and religious ceremonies.
Changaa is also popular in Kibera and other slum areas because of its potency and affordability. For instance, changaa’s alcohol content is around 34%, and a glass of changaa costs five times less than a bottle of beer. It has an alcoholic content like distilled whiskey, and a shot of changaa can cost as little as 5 Kenyan shillings ($0.01).1
Due to its potent and addictive nature, many people will go to great lengths and give anything to get their hands on changaa. In Nyahururu in the Rift Valley, the spread of changaa addiction is threatening communities, with women going as far as selling their bodies to pay for the drink while men are trading their labor in exchange for the agricultural products needed to make it.
In Nairobi, business is booming above all other slums, such as Kibera and Mlango Kubwa, where the children of changaa producers are paying a high price as they are frequently subjected to violence and abuse.2 Additionally, while once a men’s trade, often, women run the business of producing and selling changaa. This drink has been consumed for generations in Kibera. One social analysis showed that many parishioners have voiced growing alarm about the harmful side effects of the changaa trade.3
Changaa Alcohol Side Effects
When it comes to the effects of changaa on the body, we must consider the adulterants it’s made with, as well, such as jet fuel, embalming fluid, and battery acid. Common side effects of changaa include:
- Tooth erosion
- Respiratory tract irritation
- Burns in the mouth and throat
- Eroded holes in the stomach
- Burnt skin around the mouth
- Upset stomach
- Inflammation of the stomach
- Stomach ulcers
- Perforation in the esophagus and stomach
- Liver damage
- Decreased immune response
- Impaired cognition
- Sedation and drowsiness
Due to its potency, it is common for changaa consumers to be laid out semi-consciously on the streets. In addition to the physical effects, changaa can also heavily impact a person’s family. What’s more, not only is changaa a drink for men, but women have also begun drinking it, too. Most of them are single mothers who can’t find work.
Parishioners from the social analysis also shared that changaa producers violated the unspoken rule of not selling to young people, including children in primary school. As a result, many parents have “lost” their children to the brew. Even young boys who have used their family’s resources to get an education have taken to drinking changaa because they cannot find jobs and give back to their families.3
Despite the consequences, a major driving force for changaa abuse in Kenya is poverty. We know that grief and alcohol do not mesh, and declining economic opportunities, especially chronic unemployment, led to a sense of hopelessness that caused many Kenyans to seek refuge in changaa. One parishioner in a social analysis observed, “Many people don’t want to go home after looking for work all day and face their kids and wife struggling, so they just go to a bar and drink.”3
The list of changaa dangers goes on and on. And while this brew is uncommon in the United States, alcoholism is not. Alcohol is one of the most abused substances in the U.S., so it is no surprise that alcoholism is an ongoing problem.
If you or someone you know has a drinking problem, do not wait to get help. Our Pompano treatment center offers alcohol addiction treatment and various levels of care, including IOP and PHP. Our facility can help you get and stay clean long-term.
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- NCBI - Estimating Alcohol Content of Traditional Brew in Western Kenya Using Culturally Relevant Methods: The Case for Cost Over Volume
- Parallelozero - Chang’aa, a Liquid Nightmare
- AJOL - Chang’aa Drinking in Kibera Slum: The Harmful Effects of Contemporary Changes in the Production and Consumption of Traditional Spirits