A trauma-informed substance use and sexual risk reduction intervention for young South African women: a mixed-methods feasibility study

Article

Focus Areas: Health & Wellness

OBJECTIVES: Sexual and physical trauma and substance use are intersecting risks for HIV among young women. This study assesses the feasibility, acceptability and preliminary effects of a novel trauma-informed substance use and sexual risk reduction intervention for young South African women.

DESIGN: A single arm feasibility test and qualitative interviews of participants.

PARTICIPANTS: Sixty women, between 18 and 25 years of age, who reported trauma exposure, substance use and recent condom-less sex were recruited. Twenty participants were randomly selected for qualitative interviews.

INTERVENTION: A six-session group-based intervention.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: We examined the proportion of women who provided consent, completed counselling and were retained in the study. Qualitative interviews explored intervention acceptability. Preliminary effects of the intervention on substance use, mental health (depression, psychological distress and trauma symptoms) and sexual risk outcomes (STI symptoms, number of partners and condomless sex) were explored.

RESULTS: Of the 66 eligible women, 91% were enrolled. Intervention completion rates were low; 35% attended all sessions. On average, participants attended four sessions (M=3.8, SD=1.3). A 93% follow-up rate was achieved at the 3-month endpoint. In this single group design, reductions in the proportion of participants who tested positive for methamphetamine, cannabis and methaqualone were observed at the 3-month endpoint. Symptoms of depression, psychological distress and trauma; number of STI symptoms; and number of sexual partners also decreased. Outcomes were similar for participants who completed up to four and those who completed five or more sessions. Participants thought the intervention was highly beneficial and proposed modifications to enhance acceptability.

CONCLUSIONS: This novel intervention seems acceptable and holds potential benefits for trauma-exposed women who use substances. Truncating the intervention may enhance the likelihood of its implementation. The efficacy of the intervention for improving substance use, sexual risk and mental health outcomes requires testing in a controlled design.

Myers, B., T. Carney, F. A. Browne and W. M. Wechsberg (2019). "A trauma-informed substance use and sexual risk reduction intervention for young South African women: a mixed-methods feasibility study." BMJ Open 9(2): e024776.

Experts

Wendee Wechsberg

“We must listen to the communities, the local people, to understand culturally what is going to fit and what is going to be the language of the research, and not just say we know what to do here.”

Felicia Browne

"I am so grateful to have the opportunity to work on applied, gender-focused projects in the community in which I grew up, in hopes of having an impact on HIV, STIs and other health outcomes among African-American adolescent girls and young women."