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Sep 26, 2019
The Truth about Substance Use Disorder Recovery

Recovery is a process of change through which people improve their health and well-being, live self-directed lives and strive to reach their full potential. More than 22 million people are in recovery from substance use disorders1 [PDF] but unfortunately the stigma of addiction continues to be a barrier for the millions more who need help.

Cigna addiction experts Dr. Karl Sieg, medical director for behavioral health and Stephanie Foerster, behavioral operations lead, discuss addiction, recovery and how Cigna can help individuals through their own journeys.

1. What are the biggest misconceptions about recovery?

Stephanie Foerster: Recovery is a process, not an event. There is a steady movement forward, but there are also setbacks along the way. Setbacks are a natural part of life that build resilience, another key part of recovery.

Dr. Karl Sieg: Addiction is a disease just like diabetes or cancer, there isn’t a cure and it needs to be managed for a lifetime. Coming to terms with this fact can be a struggle early on for individuals and their loved ones.

2. What is the recovery process?

Dr. Sieg: There are six phases of recovery, but it’s important to understand they are not linear. Most people will go back to previous phases throughout their journey.

  • Pre-contemplation: Does not recognize change is needed. Negative consequences can move a person to contemplation.
  • Contemplation: Begins to think about change, but is uncertain. May try to minimize substances.
  • Determination: Makes a commitment to changing and identifies initial actions.
  • Preparation & Action: Takes steps to change. Might have periods of sobriety but still has a high-risk for relapse.
  • Maintenance: Achieved goals and is working to maintain recovery.
  • Recurrence: Many people relapse several times before staying in maintenance long-term.

Foerster: At Cigna, we partner with the people and families we serve through the recovery process. We are an advocate looking at the whole person – body and mind, their community and home environment.

3. What suggestions do you have for someone seeking treatment?

Foerster: If you need assistance finding help, a call to your health plan provider or your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP), if available, can help you find the right treatment.

At Cigna, we partner closely with health care providers that are part of our Substance Use Centers of Excellence program to help them provide assistance to the people and families we both serve. Our program now includes 300 access points nationwide, and 53 locations focused specifically on the treatment of opioid use disorder2.

Dr. Sieg: While treatment is highly personalized, there are evidence-based therapies that work for many people such as motivational interviews and medication assisted treatment (MAT) with counseling. To help provide this critical tool to even more of our customers, Cigna has increased access its MAT providers by 40 percent since 2017 and added 92 comprehensive MAT programs in 20192.

4. How does your team support customers in recovery?

Foerster: Cigna’s team of clinicians, nurses, social workers, counselors and case coordinators specialize in addiction recovery. They can provide information to help customers build a treatment team that supports both body and mind, and includes MAT providers and a sober network to help those in recovery stay successful. Most importantly, Cigna’s team serves as an advocate to help them along the way.

For more information on addiction and recovery, visit our dedicated substance use disorder resource page.


1. Prevalence and pathways of recovery from drug and alcohol problems in the United States population: Implications for practice, research, and policy. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Volume 181, 1 December 2017, Pages 162-169. John F. Kelly, Brandon Bergman, Bettina B. Hoeppner, Corrie Vilsaint, William L. White.

2. Cigna Behavioral Health network data as of June 2019, subject to change. Available resources dependent on customer status, benefit plan, and more.