Purpose: The knowledge-based approach to substance use and HIV prevention, commonly used in Central Asia, does not equip at-risk adolescents with risk reduction skills. This pilot study aims to adapt and test the feasibility and estimate the effect size parameters of a skill-based and family-focused intervention for at-risk adolescents from communities affected by heroin trade and use in Kazakhstan, located on the major drug trafficking route from Afghanistan.
Methods: This National Institute on Drug Abuse-funded pilot trial used a mixed-methods approach and included 181 adolescents (ages 14¡17) that reported at least one risk factor (e.g., substance-using family members or friends and parental criminal history). In addition to the school-based health education program, intervention-arm adolescent-caregiver dyads received three computerized pilot sessions focusing on risk reduction self-efficacy, resistance to peer pressure, and strengthening of family relationships. Adolescents completed baseline, 3- and 6-month Audio Computer-Assisted Self-Interview surveys in Russian and treatment group adolescents (n = 12) also participated in postintervention focus groups.
Results: Small size effects were observed for youth-level theoretical mediators associated with lower substance use. Compared to the control group, intervention-arm adolescents showed improvement in personal and social competencies such as assertiveness (Cohen’s d = .21) and self-esteem (d = .22) at 3 months and increased engagement in prosocial activities at 6 months (d = .41). Adolescents from the intervention group also reported improved self-control skills helping alleviate emotional distress (an increase in anger and tension management d = .30 at 3 months and a reduction in temper d = ¡.27 at 6 months) along with a lower likelihood of binge drinking at 6 months (odds ratio = .18, p = .023).
Conclusions: In middle-income countries like Kazakhstan, an intervention that utilizes interactive technologies and combines an empirically tested skills-based approach with family involvement may be an engaging, acceptable, and culturally appropriate tool for preventing substance use among at-risk youth.