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Urge Surfing

Old 09-18-2022, 03:58 PM
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Lightbulb Urge Surfing

Learning to cope with cravings is one of the main challenges youíll face in early recovery. Urge surfing, a concept pioneered by the late psychologist Alan Marlatt, can help.Marlatt was a leading clinical psychologist in the field of addictive behaviors from the 1980s through the 2000s. His work focused on brief interventions and relapse prevention. His research was supported by a number of prestigious organizations, including the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Marlatt defined urges as the impulse to engage in old habits, such as drinking or using drugs. He noted that urges are often experienced as physical sensations within the body. For example, headaches, tension, a pins-and-needles sensation, or a queasy stomach often accompany urges related to substance abuse.

Urge surfing encourages you to acknowledge the sensations youíre experiencing without passing a value judgment or acting on them. Researchers have established that cravings are a normal part of the recovery process. They do not mean that you have no willpower or that youíre not cut out for a sober life. They are simply a sign that your body is still adjusting to life without drugs and alcohol. Urges can be intense in the early stages of recovery, but they will naturally diminish over time.

In gaining a greater awareness of the sensations associated with your cravings, you diminish their power. You begin to realize that cravings are only temporary and you donít need to act on them. You can simply ride the wave of what youíre feeling until the craving passes and youíre able to direct your attention to other matters.

How to Practice the Technique

Urge surfing can be thought of as a mindfulness technique. The concept of mindfulness is already incorporated into many types of substance abuse treatment, including mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and mindfulness-based relapse prevention (MBRP). Itís been shown to improve self-esteem, reduce anxiety, ease symptoms of depression, and promote greater awareness throughout the recovery process.

Like other forms of mindfulness, you donít need any special supplies or equipment to practice urge surfing. Hereís what you do:
  1. Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit. Closing your eyes can help you focus.
  2. Bring your attention to the areas of your body affected by the urge. For example, does your mouth water when you experience the urge to drink?
  3. Describe the sensations you feel in a calm, objective way. If youíre experiencing sensations in more than one part of the body, focus on the most intense sensations first.
  4. Bring your attention to your breathing, without changing your breath.
  5. After one or two minutes, shift your attention back to the parts of the body that are experiencing the urge.
  6. Alternate between focusing on your breathing and the parts of your body experiencing the urge sensations until your craving subsides. Think of the craving as a wave and your breath as the surfboard. Waves rise and fall, but a surfboard helps you stay upright and in control.
  7. When you feel the intensity of your urge has dropped to a manageable level, get up and continue with your day.
Some people find it helpful to listen to an audio recording of the technique to provide guidance. There are several different tutorials on YouTube, including a recording from a professional mindfulness teacher on the TurnTeam channel.

Do not be discouraged if you find urge surfing to be difficult at first. Mindfulness techniques take time to master. In todayís fast-paced world, weíre not used to focusing on just one thing. Calming the mind will get easier with practice.

Finding a Method that Works for You

While urge surfing has proven to be helpful for many people, itís not the best choice in every circumstance. No two people are exactly alike, which means an approach to recovery must be customized to fit individual needs.

If urge surfing doesnít work for you or you need additional forms of support, other ideas for coping with cravings include:
  • Move away from the situation thatís triggering the craving.
  • Take a hike, go for a bike ride, or engage in some other outdoor activity you enjoy.
  • Distract yourself with a book, movie, or music.
  • Journal about what youíre feeling.
  • Reach out to your sponsor or a friend you can trust to guide you through your cravings without judgment.
St. Joseph Institute for Addictionís Pennsylvania
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