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2. Coping with Urges

You have power over the choices you make, how you behave and the goals you set.

Learning to cope with urges is the difference between abstaining and using. It can be difficult. The feelings can be intense, and you're used to giving into them. It takes strong mental and emotional commitment on your part to change these patterns.

Some people report having no urges after they make the choice to stop. Others report that they have urges later on. Dealing with them may be mentally difficult; it may be physically and emotionally uncomfortable, but it's not impossible. You can do it.

Urges are psychological in nature and are different to the physiological withdrawal symptoms you may experience when you first stop using drugs or alcohol. Urges can be unpleasant and resisting them may involve some emotional discomfort.

The more you know about urges and understand why they happen, the better equipped you are to cope with them. Rather than an excuse to escape into your addictive behaviour, you'll be able to use urges as a catalyst in your emotional growth.

You can learn to recognise urges without acting on them. The more you do that, the easier it gets. Most people who recover from addictive behaviour say that, after a while, the urges go away completely as they replace the unhealthy behaviour with healthy alternatives. In the first few days and weeks of your abstinence, your urges may be very strong and may grow stronger for a while.

Learning to cope with your urges enables you to achieve your long-term goals. There's no way around this.

It's likely that you've been feeding your urges for so long that you don't even think about them. They feel like they're part of who you are. You may hold beliefs about your urges that are unrealistic or untrue, and make them worse.

Identifying Your Triggers

What Is a Trigger?
Triggers are the things that lead to cravings (l want to), which can lead to urges (l need to). They may be your emotions; something you've done, are doing, or want to do; a time of day, week, or year; something you touch, hear, see, smell, or taste; or anything else that leads to urges. Each of us has our own triggers.

They are not excuses to use and they are not unpredictable.

Addictive behaviour teaches your brain to associate some things with the pleasure or relief you feel when indulging in the addictive behaviour. Even when you stop, your brain will be reminded about the addictive behaviour when you encounter your triggers, or allow yourself to conjure up triggers.

Your brain can unlearn this thinking reaction (l want to) to a trigger. These reactions may last a while but will eventually decrease to be the briefest (milliseconds) of unhelpful thoughts. As humans, brief, ridiculous, and unhelpful thoughts come into our heads all the time about things we quickly dismiss for what they are - silly thoughts and no more. The more serious urges (l need to) usually subside in a few days, weeks, or months.

To identify your triggers, think about the substances or behaviours that stimulate your senses: Sight, Smell, Hearing, Taste, and Touch. Make a list. You may not be aware of how many there are.

How many can you identify? Be honest and list them all, even if they seem insignificant.

Identifying your triggers is an important part of your recovery. Awareness gives you the power to understand and deal with urges; however, even with awareness and planning, you will experience urges. It's a normal and natural part of recovery. 

An awareness and understanding of urges is crucial to recovery. You identified what triggers them, but do you know how long they last? How intense they are? How frequent? Most people with addictive behaviours don't realise that urges usually last only seconds to minutes and then pass.


One way to understand your urges is by recording them in an urge log. An urge log is a table in which you record specific information about your urges. After a few entries, you may notice patterns and similarities about your urges. The log then becomes a road map that will help you anticipate situations and emotions that may trigger urges. You also may notice certain thought patterns associated with your urges, which are helpful in self-management and problem solving (Point 3).  

You may find that you can create an urge log in your journal, if you're keeping one. If you're not, use the Urge Log. Keep it with you so you can immediately log each urge before you forget it. At first, you may need to write in it many times a day. When you identify, urges triggered by certain times, places, or situations that you encounter regularly, you can plan ways to avoid those triggers or, distract yourself from the urge until it passes.


Distracting Yourself
Although it may be difficult at first - especially during intense urges - distracting yourself is one of the best ways to get through an urge. When you're actively doing something, you're thinking about that and not the urge. 

The more you refuse to give in to urges, the less frequently they occur, and the more quickly they pass. They also will become less intense. Here are some examples of activities you can use to distract yourself from an urge.

Consider using the Weekly Planner to document your interests and activities. Plan activities for times you know you may get urges. Check your urge log or trigger worksheets for times when urges tend to strike.


Defeat Urges With DEADS

You can knock down urges DEADS! This is an easy way to
remember strategies when faced with an urge. 

Urges can muddy your thinking, making bad decisions more likely. DEADS can help you think clearly about how to deal With the urge, no matter how intense.  

D = Deny/Delay (Don't give in to the urge) - Remind yourself, repeatedly if necessary, this urge will pass. Refuse to give into it - no matter What!

E = Escape The Trigger - If you know What is causing the urge, leave immediately.

A = Avoid The Trigger - You can keep track Of when you get urges using the urge log. Urges can occur routinely as part of your daily pattern. If you know you will be in a situation that triggers an urge. plan to avoid the situation. The earlier in your recovery that you identify high-risk stimuli that trigger urges, the earlier you can avoid those situations or escape when unexpectedly faced with them.

A = Attack The Urge - Dispute irrational beliefs and obsessive thoughts, or do an ABC, Practice relaxation or meditation.

A = Accept The Urge - Tell yourself the urge Will pass soon and that if you don't give in to it, the next urge will be less intense, and they Will become less frequent-You may want to sit quietly by yourself to surf the urge: feel it build then fade while you acknowledge your thoughts and feelings about the urge, the present. and your future. Remember, don't turn the urge into a bigger issue by pretending it doesn’t exist.  

D = Distract Yourself With An Activity - Do something: go for a walk. read a book, or watch TV. If you’re putting your mind on something else, then it can't focus on the urge. Simple activities, such as counting Objects or saying the alphabet backward also can fill up your attention. Do something, even if you don't want to (clean the fridge, walk the dog). Motivation may follow the action.

S = Substitute For Addictive Thinking - Send in healthy substitute thoughts to squeeze out the urge: Replace an irrational belief (This urge will kill me) with a rational one (This urge is bad but it won't kill me and it will pass). Substitute feeling down and alone by going to the gym or stopping by the SMART on-line community.


Destructive Images and Self-talk Awareness and Refusal Method (DISARM)

In the same way that your addictive behaviour is only a behaviour and not “you," an urge is merely a feeling or an impulse you experience, not the essence Of you.  

Some people find it helps to cope with their urges if they give them a name, as if the urges were another being or something outside themselves.

Give your urge and its voice a name that describes what it feels like when the urge comes on. SMART participants have used names like, "The Inner Brat," "The Lobbyist," "The Whiner," or simply,' 'The Enemy."

Naming your urge may help recognise it sooner. When you hear the first whispers of its voice, address it by name, and firmly refuse it. Tell it to get lost or that it's no longer welcome; laugh at it. Then visualise it getting smaller and weaker, and disappearing.

Personifying your urge helps in two ways: It serves as a reminder that you are not your behaviour; it defines something that, until now, may have felt amorphous and shadowy. It puts you in a power position over the urge and your addictive behaviour.

Dealing with Discomfort
Discomfort of any type, emotional or physical, can go together with urges. It’s our beliefs about an event and our resulting discomfort that can influence our addictive behaviours.  

Your beliefs can be a major source of discomfort. At some level, you may believe that you can't survive discomfort or shouldn't have to tolerate it. Thinking about it in this way may actually cause your discomfort to get worse.

Abstinence will be difficult if you refuse to accept mild or temporary discomfort as a normal part of life. If you've spent years escaping from discomfort through your addictive behaviour, you’ve built up powerful habitual responses to it. Now you have the opportunity to accept and deal with discomfort in healthy ways. Remember, before your addictive behaviour began, you dealt with discomfort without the behaviour. You can learn how to do this again.

Some situations are not what you want them to be. Discomfort can be a useful feeling that tells us something is not right and motivates us to change the situation, or our thinking about it. Discomfort is not always "bad"; it is sometimes just part of the human condition.

What Is Discomfort?
Distress and discomfort manifest themselves in the body in different ways:
Physical Pain - It's not just the pain but our demand that such pain must not exist that leads to additional discomfort.  

Withdrawal and Rebound - When you Stop an addictive behaviour, you may experience withdrawal or rebound. For example, if your addictive behaviour gave you relief from stress or feeling down. you may experience despair or depression. The discomfort may feel intense for the first few weeks; however, be confident that it will eventually decrease.

Anxiety - Sometimes people experience anxiety after withdrawal and rebound. This type of discomfort may be what propelled you into your addictive behaviour in the first place. Evolution tells us that we may have inherited some anxiety or uneasiness from our ancestors. It kept them vigilant against the dangers of a wilder and more uncertain world. Anxiety is stronger in some people than in others. but it's natural in all of us. 'We add to our anxiety and discomfort if believing that the world must be safe and that we must control everything.

Depression - Biology and heredity can be a major contributor to clinical depression that requires medical treatment; however, much sadness and situational depression is a result of the demands we place on ourselves, on others, and on the world. If you believe that you must be loved or must be successful to be happy. you will likely find yourself unhappy much of the time. Others may believe that they don't deserve happiness because they are unworthy of it. You don't have to get the things you demand to be happy.

Frustration and Anger - If you see yourself as doing things badly, doing things that aren't in your best interest, or see others as treating you unfairly, you're probably going to feel some discomfort. Dictating the way others should act can inevitably lead to frustration when they choose not to act the way you want. You Will feel all shades of frustration, anger or even rage when these demands are not met or you think they won't be.


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