What Is Urge Surfing for Addiction Treatment?

Urge Surfing for Addiction Treatment,

Most people recovering from addiction have urges. Learning to deal with urges so they don’t derail your recovery is critical. One method of doing this is called urge surfing. It’s a technique you may learn about during your addiction treatment.

What Are Urges?

Urges are impulses to act on something. Urges happen to people in all walks of life, but for those in addiction recovery, these urges often encourage a person to engage in previous bad habits. This may include using drugs or alcohol. While we think of urges as originating in our brain, they are often accompanied or preceded by a physical sensation: a build-up of tension in the shoulders, headaches, an upset stomach, etc.

How Does Urge Surfing Work?

Urge surfing is a concept first developed by psychologist Alan Marlatt. Marlatt is recognized for his work in clinical pathology and psychology from the 1980s through 2000s. He developed the concept of urge surfing based on his understanding of how people experienced these intense sensations.

The goal of urge surfing is to acknowledge the thoughts and sensations but to avoid judging them or believing them. Urges are recognized but not associated with failure or weakness. Rather, they are just a component of the healing process that occurs as the body works to adjust to a life without alcohol or drugs. 

Urges tend to be more intense at the beginning of the recovery process and then lessen in frequency and intensity over time. That said, strong cravings to use can still surprise people who have been in recovery a long time. Marlatt’s approach to dealing with urges is, most simply, to ride them out – as if surfing a wave – until they diminish.

You Can Put Urge Surfing to Work for You

Your therapist may want to teach you the urge surfing technique, but it’s also something you can learn and practice on your own. When cravings arise, find a comfortable place where you can sit quietly for a few minutes without interruption. 

Then, think about your body.

  • What are you feeling?
  • What areas of your body are affected by the urges?
  • If you think about your cravings, what physical reactions do you have?
  • Describe those sensations to yourself. Stay calm. Focus on facts.

Once you recognize what is happening in your body, try to relax. Focus on your breath. Take slow, deep breaths until you feel calmer. Then, check in with your body again. Have the sensations changed? Repeat this process several times until you feel more at ease. You may feel your cravings lessen in a matter of minutes, or you may need to keep surfing a little longer. 

The benefit of urge surfing is that it empowers you. It lets you take back control simply by breathing and remaining a calm observer of your body and your mind.

Why Use Urge Surfing?

When you can control your thoughts and reduce the discomfort of cravings, you are better able to avoid relapse. Feel free to adjust the technique so that it works for you. For example, if sitting still is too difficult, move through the process while taking a walk. 

Urge surfing offers many benefits:

  • You can use it at any time.
  • You will feel better relatively quickly.
  • You will gain confidence as you learn to control your urges.
  • You will better manage any pain and withdrawal symptoms.
  • You will be able to stay on track with your recovery goals.

When Urge Surfing Isn’t Enough

Sometimes urge surfing will not be enough. Maybe the cravings will be so intense that you won’t even want to try to stop them. If your cravings become unmanageable, pick up the phone and call a mentor or sober friend. Work with your therapist. If you relapse or feel relapse is imminent, don’t get stuck in guilt or shame. Just reach out to someone. Return to treatment. Our drug and alcohol treatment program in Lubbock, TX, can help you get your life back on track.