Urge Surfing as a Recovery Technique

An urge is defined as a strong desire or impulse, and those in addiction recovery are usually no strangers to this experience. Intense cravings for drugs or alcohol can be extremely difficult to cope with, and it’s imperative that those in recovery have a plan to manage them.

Understanding Urges :

Urges are our body’s way of telling us that we need something. Primary urges signal to us that we need to drink water, eat or even breathe. However, secondary ones can be created by mental and behavioral patterns, and do not aid survival. Urges for drugs and alcohol fall into this category.

What is Urge Surfing?

It is a mental technique to observe and experience an urge without engaging in it. It is similar to meditation and encourages acknowledgement of the sensations one is experiencing without acting on them. The technique draws a parallel between urges and waves in the ocean. Both can be powerful, but both pass quickly. An awareness of cravings and their physical manifestations is the first step to diminishing their hold on us.

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What's The Research Behind It?

This practice is a mindfulness technique. Mindfulness is a concept that is already recognized in addiction recovery and has been shown to reduce feelings of anxiety, ease depression, and increase self-awareness. Urge surfing arose from the work of clinical psychologist Dr G. Alan Marlatt, whose research was focused on relapse prevention and short interventions. His studies showed that urges are often experienced in the body as physical sensations, and the technique seeks to pinpoint and acknowledge those sensations as an acceptance strategy, rather than an attempt to repress them.

How to practice it?

  • Find a quiet place to sit. You may want to close your eyes in order to focus
  • Focus your attention on the areas of your body where you are experiencing the effects of the craving. For example, you may feel your mouth water when you have the urge to drink.
  • Describe the sensations to yourself in a calm, objective manner. There is no rush, and if you are experiencing more than one physical sensation, begin with the most intense
  • Now switch your attention to the rise and fall of your breathing. Remember to breathe naturally.
  • In your own time, switch your attention back to the physical sites connected to your craving. If you are still experiencing strong physical sensations, work through the process of describing them to yourself again.
  • Alternate between focusing on your breathing and your physical sensations until the urge subsides.
  • You can continue this as long as is necessary, and until the cravings subside like waves on the ocean becoming less and less intense.
  • Once the urge has passed, end the exercise and return to your regular activities.

Remember that you can return to this exercise any time an urge occurs. For those that may find it helpful to listen to a guided audio, watch the 3-Minute Urge Surfing Mindfulness Meditation video below :

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