Managing your cravings skilfully and effectively is a key part of successful prevention. Here we look at how the urge surfing technique can help you get past your cravings and ensure a successful recovery.

Urge Surfing Relapse Prevention


  • “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • Tired of fighting your cravings? Urge surfing can help you get past them with the least amount of discomfort. Find out how.

Cravings are often the most intense and difficult part of recovery. The desire to drink that beer can be at once both overwhelming and subtle, flooding us with thoughts and urges that sap our willpower and make us prone to relapse.

How we deal with these cravings can very often be the difference between success and failure in recovery and can be a key part of relapse prevention. Very often the intuitive reaction is to fight the urge, but this tends to feed your cravings and increase your chances of relapse. Using the mindful practice of urge surfing can be a very powerful tool in facing your cravings and learning to live with them as you continue your recovery journey. Often described as observing or even embracing your cravings, urge surfing allows you to better understand these feelings so you can get past them with minimal discomfort.

The urge surfing technique was pioneered by late psychologist Alan Marlatt in the ‘80s and is now accepted as a very real and effective tool in relapse prevention. Its effectiveness has been backed up by a number of studies and even app developers are integrating urge surfing features into their software to help people deal with their cravings.

Teaching People to Relate to Their Experiences Differently

One University of Washington study found a group of smokers who were introduced to the urge surfing technique in a closed setting cut back their smoking by 37 per cent after one week, without even being encouraged to do so.

“We are teaching people to relate to their experiences differently,” said Dr Sarah Bowen, the research scientist who led the study. “Rather than trying to white-knuckle their way through a craving or avoid triggers, we are teaching people to relate to their difficulty more skilfully.”

While cravings can sometimes feel endless, most often they last just a few minutes. Using these minutes as a mini-meditation exercise to surf the urge can help you get past the craving while giving you valuable insights into why you formed a dependency in the first place. The next time you feel a craving coming on, try these basic mindfulness techniques to get you through.

You Deserve to be Happy

1. Focus on The Urge

When you experience a craving, take a deep breath and take a few moments to stay with the feeling. Take the time to feel how it’s affecting you both physically and emotionally, and notice which parts of the body are experiencing the most discomfort.  While the craving will be uncomfortable, remind yourself that this is as bad as it gets, and it can’t harm you in any other way. Your potential reaction to the craving is what can be the most harmful, not the craving itself. Continue breathing deeply and evenly as the craving peaks, builds and subsides.

2. View Your Cravings as Waves

Cravings come and go, and even increase and decrease in intensity as you experience them. While it’s easy to feel like a craving will go on forever and we have to react to them in some way, the opposite is true. If you ride the wave, the feelings of discomfort will pass. In time, surfing these urges will become easier as the waves will become less frequent, less intense and less uncomfortable.

3. Examine Your Real Needs

As you surf your urge, try to examine your feelings, emotions and the thoughts that are going through your head.  Understanding your reaction to cravings can help you focus on what you really need and what is beneficial for you. As you gain clarity you may come to realise that it’s not the substance you’re really craving, but relief from negative emotions like stress, loneliness or unhappiness with your situation in life. Understanding the feelings that led you to drink, smoke or take drugs in the first place can be key to freeing you from your urges.

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It’s important to be kind to yourself throughout the process. If possible, find a peaceful and comfortable place and focus on the positives of what you’re doing. As you learn how to deal with the urges, you may find yourself dealing with some negative emotions as you come to a better understanding of why you are experiencing these uncomfortable feelings. As you focus on the urges, be mindful of the long-term benefits of what you’re doing. And always remember that you’re not actively getting rid of the urge or craving, but building the tools to manage it skilfully and effectively. In time the cravings will become less frequent, less intense and, ultimately, will subside altogether.

Addiction Treatment in Singapore

Urge surfing has the potential to help tens of thousands of Singaporeans come to terms with their cravings and prevent relapse. The mindfulness approach can be used to help deal with cravings of all kinds, from drugs to alcohol to process addictions such as compulsive eating and Internet use.

If you feel you need an extra helping hand in managing your cravings, The Cabin Singapore’s certified counsellors can help you take those essential first steps toward recovery and equip you with all the tools you need to prevent relapse. Contact us today to find out how we can help you.