Urge Surfing to Beat Cravings: What Is It and How to Do It

Cravings are a normal part of recovery. Urge surfing is a mindfulness technique that can help you cope.

Learning how to deal with drug and alcohol cravings is one of the biggest challenges you’ll likely face in the early stages of recovery. Although cravings can be powerful motivators for relapse, you don’t have to let them control your behavior, and there are effective ways to cope.

Urge surfing is one common way people in recovery deal with cravings. When practiced and implemented regularly, this method can help you diminish the power drug and alcohol cravings have over you as you adjust to a life that’s free from drug and alcohol abuse.

Related post: 5 Great Exercises to Curb Addiction Cravings

Drug and alcohol cravings and addiction recovery

The definition of “cravings” is a highly deliberated subject, but it’s generally a subjective experience of wanting to use a drug.1 Many alcoholics and previously addicted individuals experience cravings in the early stages of recovery. They’re an indicator that the body is still adjusting to the absence of drugs or alcohol. Additionally, psychiatric conditions like anxiety or depression may also influence the severity and frequency of cravings.2

Cravings and urges to use drugs or alcohol can also include uncomfortable physical sensations in the body, such as:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Muscle tension
  • Pins and needles sensation

For some people, cravings can persist or resurface for years after the last drink or use of drugs. Researchers have indicated that cravings are a normal part of recovery, as intrusive and discouraging as they are.  If you experience them from time to time, it doesn’t mean you’re not cut out for recovery or that you’re any less able than others to maintain your sobriety. 

Cravings can be intense in the early stages of recovery, but they will naturally diminish over time. Until then, there are many methods for coping with drug and alcohol cravings to reduce your risk of relapse.

What is urge surfing?

Urge surfing is a mindfulness technique that you can use to prevent addictive behaviors like drinking alcohol or using drugs. Dr. Alan Marlatt, the psychologist who also developed the mindfulness-based relapse prevention approach for addiction treatment and recovery, was the first to introduce urge surfing.

The process of urge surfing can help you ride out your urges to drink or use drugs by acknowledging the sensations without passing judgment or acting on them. As a result, you gain a greater awareness of your cravings and improve your ability to let them pass without compulsively acting.3

Researchers have discovered that suppressing thoughts, feelings, or sensations with willpower ultimately only increases the urges.4 For example, the more you try to fight your cravings with willpower, the more stressed you become. As your stress increases, the more powerful the craving becomes and the less likely you will overcome it.

Alternatively, urge surfing requires that you watch the urge as it goes by, observe how it feels, and use meditation techniques to deal with it. Compared to attempting to suppress the urge to use drugs or alcohol, urge surfing is a much more passive approach that helps you learn how to manage cravings long-term.

How to practice urge surfing

Now that you know what urge surfing is, let’s discuss how to do it. If you’ve attended a drug rehab program in the past, you’re likely familiar with mindfulness practices, as treatment professionals incorporate them into many types of substance abuse treatment approaches. That initial understanding of mindfulness will help you as you practice the technique of urge surfing.

Here’s a basic step-by-step overview of how to do it:

  1. Acknowledge any uncomfortable physical or emotional sensations you’re feeling.
  2. Sit in a quiet and comfortable place that’s free of distractions. If you need to close your eyes to focus, feel free to do so.
  3. Breathe in and out slowly and purposefully, and focus on your breath.
  4. Focus your attention on the various parts of your body affected by the urge to drink or use drugs. For example, your shoulders may feel tense, you may experience a tingling feeling in your fingertips, you might feel an overwhelming sense of emptiness, or your thoughts may be racing.
  5. Use guided imagery by creating an image in your mind that will help you ride the urge. This is a proven method that helps create harmony between the mind and body.5 For example, you can follow the ebb and flow of your urge by imagining an ocean wave rising as you inhale and reaching the shore as you exhale. Imagine that your breath is a surfboard that helps you navigate the waters of the urge.
  6. Try to alternate focusing on your breathing and the physical or emotional sensations produced by the craving.
  7. As the intensity of the urge subsides, recognize that you are okay and you are in control. Take a deep belly breath and slowly exhale. Acknowledge the severity of your craving.
  8. When you feel ready, get up and continue with your day.

Like other mindfulness practices, it’s always best to practice with the guidance of an experienced professional. If you’re attending a rehab program or individual therapy sessions, practicing with your therapist or counselor is an excellent option. At first, urge surfing can be difficult, but don’t be discouraged! With consistent practice, it will become easier over time.

Other ways to cope with addiction cravings

Although many people find that urge surfing is an effective way to manage cravings in recovery, every individual is different. As a result, recovery support must be tailored to the specific needs of each individual, thereby reducing the risk of relapse.

If you find that urge surfing doesn’t work for you, or you need additional strategies to cope with cravings in early recovery, you may find that the following methods are helpful:

  • Find a distraction
  • Get outside and be physically active
  • Practice self-care
  • Develop a counter statement
  • Journal
  • Talk through it with a sponsor or counselor

Related post: 6 Self-Defeating Behaviors to Avoid in Recovery

Get individualized addiction recovery support with Eudaimonia Recovery Homes

At Eudaimonia Recovery Homes, we operate several sober living homes in Austin, Houston, and Colorado Springs for men and women in recovery. We also offer individualized recovery support services to ease your transition back into independent sober living and access to therapeutic services, including psychiatric therapy, counseling, and recovery coaching provided by experienced and qualified individuals. 

By providing supportive sober housing and recovery services, we can help you identify the best strategies to get your cravings under control so you can establish a stable, sober life for yourself. Please call (512) 580-3130 to get started today.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4041083/ 
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10890811/ 
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5023750/ 
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1883305/ 
  5. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/departments/wellness/integrative/treatments-services/guided-imagery 


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