Surf The Urge of Addiction

Surf The Urge of Addiction

Urge surfing is an extremely powerful tool used by therapists often for people who fight the urges linked to addiction.

But, before we answer what is urge surfing, let's understand: what are urges?

Is there a part of you that comes up to persuade you for something often and persistently?\

If yes, what you are experiencing is an urge!

Urges give us valuable insight into how we experience ourselves and things around us. 

For example, if you feel hungry, your body urges you to provide it with some food!

But sometimes, some urges can be related to harmful behaviors. 

For instance, if you are someone who battles addiction, there can be an urge to use again.

There is an alternative to feeling helpless, and it's called Urge Surfing!

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Facts About Urges

  1. Urges do not last longer than 30 minutes if we let them be.
  2. Fighting an urge by suppressing thoughts or sensations often makes the urge bigger
  3. Urges grow and can seem never-ending.
  4. Urges cannot be ridden, but they can be accepted.

Thus, with these facts in mind, there is an alternative to feeling helpless, and it's called Urge Surfing! 

What is Urge Surfing? 

Urge surfing is a technique by Alan Marlatt that advocates for mindful awareness of the urge instead of fighting the urge. 

Using metaphors of water, we understand the urges as an ocean wave, a riptide, or even a waterfall.

What urge surfing is doing with these metaphors is that the imagination takes control of the "waves" of urges by riding them as they become larger, smaller, and eventually subside to the shore. 

The urge surfing technique makes use of mindfulness meditation at its core. 

The focus that comes with understanding what is urge surfing helps one to regulate the breath, and observe thoughts and feelings of the wandering mind.

How to Surf the Urge?

Now that we understand what is urge surfing, let's understand how we surf the urge and come to the shore of calmness.

There are 5 simple techniques for riding the way:

1. Identify the bodily sensations as they come up for you

Take a few moments and notice how your body is having different physical responses to the urge. 

You may close your eyes as you sit in a comfortable place. 

Pointing to a specific part of your body is also helpful. If you feel that you are not able to point this out for yourself, ask yourself:

  • Where am I feeling the intensity in the body?
  • Is it your jaw? Is it clenched?
  • Is it your head? Are your eyebrows crooked? 

2. Focus on these sensations.

Once you are able to identify the specific body part, explore the sensations related to it. Some questions to help the process could be:
  • What is it like?
  • Do you feel tightness?
  • Is there pain?
  • Is it warm?

3. Notice your breathing

For a minute or two, be mindful of your breaths and the pattern they make. 

If it seems difficult, try to focus on a particular body part related to breathing. 

This could be your nose, lungs, or your diaphragm. 

Notice the inhalation from your nose and exhalation from your mouth. Notice the chest feeling full, and your abdomen going up and down.

4. Refocus on the Body

As you notice the breathing, slowly and steadily, focus on the part of your body that was affected by the urge. 

Visualize, how the urge, like a wave, is lessened after every breath in its weight, pain, or other sensations that come up for you. 

Closely attend to the processes and how the changes make you feel.

5. Stay curious and present

Take the sensations that came up for you both physically and psychologically and think of them like a wave that you surfed through with your breathing. 

Notice if you are able to hold some space for the experience. 

Acknowledge, and send warmth in the form of kindness and compassion to the yearning you felt, that showed up for you.

If the mind is wandering off by telling you stories or thoughts that seem a lot, simply notice it, and return to your breath and body.

Wait for it to come, breathe it in as it peaks, and exhale as it comes crashing down. 

Then take another minute, and pat yourself on the back for successfully surfing through the urge!

Limitations of Urge Surfing 

Although urge surfing is an amazing mindfulness-based exercise, it cannot be used in isolation for working through addiction and recovery.

Since addiction may involve complex processes of recovery, and at times, even the need for medication, the care of a trusted therapist as you surf the urge can have better therapeutic outcomes and long-term changes. 


Urges are temporary, and you have the capability to let them pass. 

Surfing the urge is a testament to your inner strength and mindful awareness alone can be helpful when one feels helpless in front of these urges. 

Nevertheless, the treatment of urges that accompany addiction is best done in a safe environment with professionals who can hold you and provide you with safety.

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June 6th, 2023

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