Urge Surfing: What it is and How it Fits into Mindfulness in Recovery

Written by Chloe Nicosia

What is “Urge Surfing” and How Can It Help With Recovery?

Mindfulness is a relatively new concept in addiction recovery. It combines meditation with the ideas of traditional cognitive-behavioral therapy. Among the practices of mindfulness is urge surfing. It allows a person to be able to control their cravings like they never could before. This is especially important in recovery as 40 to 60 percent of people relapse during their first 12 months of recovery, according to a paper published on JAMA.

Benefits of Mindfulness in Recovery

As a part of relapse prevention techniques, mindfulness can help a person to embrace both the good and the bad, which ultimately gives the person more control over such emotions. The benefits of mindfulness in recovery are as follows:

  • Among the mindfulness based relapse prevention activities is urge surfing. It allows a recovering addict to notice the cravings but without acting on them. The person feels the cravings like waves that ultimately recede.
  • Through greater acceptance, mindfulness helps a person to not have to always be in control, lowering the need to want to fix themselves and their environment.
  • Instead of automatically reacting to situations, the person is able to respond intentionally to situations and feelings.
  • Emotional distress becomes easier to cope with.

Ultimately, mindfulness based relapse prevention activities help to facilitate a non-judgmental conscious awareness. This helps to stop and reduce feelings of anger, fear, anxiety, guilt, sadness, depression and shame. These emotions in recovery make a person more susceptible to relapse.

The Goal of Urge Surfing

In most traditional rehab programs, addicts are taught to suppress and avoid cravings since they can be the catalyst to a relapse. Recovering addicts are taught techniques to take their mind off the cravings, but this can have the opposite effect causing the cravings to intensify.

The purpose of urge surfing is to regain control over negative emotions, including cravings. By fully embracing all aspects of cravings, the person is able to separate themselves from the addictive thoughts. This is achieved through a non-judgmental and curious point of view. While most recovering people will look at alcohol or drugs to fill the sudden urge, through mindfulness the person is able to be at peace with the discomfort until it passes. In fact, most cravings pass after 20 minutes. The idea of surfing these emotions brings images of greater intensity as the waves come in, but also a passing of the emotions as the waves recede.

How to Use the Relapse Prevention Techniques

In order to be released from the cravings and urges that a person feels during their recovery, they can do the following technique:

  1. It begins just as a surfer begins to surf. They look out over the ocean and recognize the rising of waves. As a technique, one should start to notice when cravings start. Consciously become aware of the fact that there is a craving-wave approaching that will likely escalate.
  2. As a surfer finds the wave they want to ride, they must commit and embrace it. In order to maintain balance, they must feel the wave and their bodily movements so as not to fight the wave, but to move with it and experience it. In recovery, you can imagine the craving as that wave. Slow down your breathing while breathing deeper. Breathe all the way in, and then exhale all the air from your lungs as you feel all of the physical sensations, emotions and thoughts that are passing by. After about 15 to 20 minutes, the experience will pass just as a wave crashes and recedes.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, get help right away. Make a phone call that will connect you to a professional drug treatment center. The call you make may save your life or the life of someone you love. Call us today at 1.800.429.7690.

Sources:

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/193144

https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery