24/7 Support Line - Call Now
Free Insurance Verification
Verify your treatment coverage

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

3 Minute Read | Published Oct 02 2023 | Updated Mar 09 2024 Expert Verified
Emma Collins
Written by
Ashley Bayliss
Reviewed by
Emma Collins
Written by
Ashley Bayliss
Reviewed by

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

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 (800) 429-7690.


bullet Bowen, S., Marlatt, A., & Raskin, A. (2018).
"Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention for Addictive Behaviors: A Clinician’s Guide. Guilford Press."
Retrieved on April 12, 2018
bullet Brewer, J. A., Bowen, S., Smith, J. T., Marlatt, G. A., & Potenza, M. N. (2010).
"Mindfulness-based treatments for co-occurring depression and substance use disorders: What can we learn from the brain? Addiction, 105(10), 1698-1706."
Retrieved on April 12, 2018
bullet Elwafi, H. M., Witkiewitz, K., Mallik, S., Thornhill, T. A., & Brewer, J. A. (2013).
"Mindfulness training for smoking cessation: Moderation of the relationship between craving and cigarette use. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 130(1-3), 222-229."
Retrieved on April 12, 2018
bullet Garland, E. L., Gaylord, S. A., Boettiger, C. A., & Howard, M. O. (2010).
"Mindfulness training modifies cognitive, affective, and physiological mechanisms implicated in alcohol dependence: Results of a randomized controlled pilot trial. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 42(2), 177-192."
Retrieved on April 12, 2018
bullet Marlatt, G. A. (2002).
"Buddhist philosophy and the treatment of addictive behavior. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 9(1), 44-50."
Retrieved on April 12, 2018
bullet Witkiewitz, K., & Bowen, S. (2010).
"Depression, craving, and substance use following a randomized trial of mindfulness-based relapse prevention. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78(3), 362-374."
Retrieved on April 12, 2018
bullet Zgierska, A., Rabago, D., Chawla, N., Kushner, K., Koehler, R., & Marlatt, A. (2009).
"Mindfulness meditation for substance use disorders: A systematic review. Substance Abuse, 30(4), 266-294."
Retrieved on April 12, 2018

Related Articles

10 Benefits Of Staying Sober During The Holidays Updated: Mar 08 2024 The holiday season brings stress for everyone, but when you are in recovery from alcohol abuse or drug addiction, the temptation to relapse can be very...
Sober Vacation Ideas and Travel Destinations Updated: Mar 09 2024 Recovering from an alcohol addiction changes many things about one’s life. One of the things that change is your holiday making and traveling. The initial thought...
Reasons to go to AA Updated: Mar 07 2024 Are you an alcoholic? Have you asked yourself, “do I need to go to AA?” There are several reasons to go to AA....

Free Insurance Verification

Our team is available to guide you through the steps of assessing your insurance coverage for addiction treatment.

Pixel Pixel