If you find yourself in a situation in which you always used to use an addictive substance or perform addictive behaviour, you may feel a strong or intense craving. You want to begin ‘using’ again. With this exercise, you will learn to not give in to this feeling, but not to ignore it as well. You will focus your attention on your feelings; they will surface and then pass over again like a wave. You will notice that the craving will disappear by itself, just like a wave that rolls off the beach and eventually disappears into the sand.
You feel a strong craving and your first impulse is to start using the addictive substance or conducting the addictive behaviour again, despite your resolve to quit your addiction. It is often obvious what triggers you to experience a craving. It could be to do with sadness, anger or anxiety that you are feeling in your body. Sometimes the presence of certain people gives rise to a craving. Cravings can be very strong and intense. Sometimes this feeling is so strong, it seems like it only starts to subside when you begin ‘using’ again.
Scientific research has shown that your body plays a major role in the experience of (strong) cravings. Once your body is accustomed to using a drug, it begins to prepare for the drug even before use. For example, your body temperature can increase. The balance in your body is therefore disturbed, which leads to a huge urge to use the drug (a craving).
Practise this exercise in a situation where you regularly experience a strong craving. You will need a timer (such as the one you would use in the kitchen) or stopwatch (your phone probably also has a stopwatch), a pen and piece of paper.
Note: consider in advance whether you think it is a good idea to do this exercise alone. You can also do the exercise in a session with your professional first. You can ask someone close to you to be there, or you could ask if you can call them during the exercise.
Imagine the situation
Use your imagination and envision the situation as vividly as possible. Who are you with, where are you, how would you sit or move, what do you smell or what do you hear? This will increase the cravings. In order to break your usual reaction pattern, which causes you to relapse, it is useful to teach yourself how to react differently in this situation.
- When your sense of craving in the imagined situation has reached its peak, rate it between 0 and 100. Record this on a sheet of paper. 0 represents ‘no craving’ and 100 ‘the strongest craving you can experience’.
- Start the timer or stopwatch and keep imagining the situation. Let the craving take over. Think about the aforementioned example of waves at the seaside.
- Investigate what kind of feelings, thoughts and physical reactions your craving triggers.
- After every 3 minutes, re-score the craving you feel or the urge to use at that given moment. Keep repeating this until you don’t feel any craving at all and your final score comes close to 0.
- Stop the exercise after 30 minutes, even if your craving has not completely disappeared. If you are still experiencing some craving after 30 minutes, you have probably chosen a situation that is too difficult.
- Discuss this exercise with your professional and repeat the exercise during the session. You can choose a slightly less difficult situation.
- At the end of the exercise, briefly write down your thoughts, feelings, and physical reactions.
Put the exercise into practice
When you feel a craving emerge in your daily life, you can start applying the ‘emotion surfing’ exercise. You will therefore allow yourself to be carried along by the pull of the craving and then examine which mental and physical reactions this evokes. Hopefully, you will experience that the craving decreases on its own without having to give in.
Keijsers, G. P. J., Van Minnen, A., Verbraak, M., Hoogduin, C. A. L. & Emmelkamp, P., (2017). Protocollaire behandelingen voor volwassenen met psychische klachten.