When someone comes through my door, a good number of them have attempted to quit and have been unsuccessful (unsurprising). Often, only 2 “tools” are used i.e. harsh self talk and distraction. Part of the definition of having a gambling, porn addiction and gaming addiction is the difficulty in quitting and repeated failed attempts at trying to get your addiction under control. 

Truth is, when you attempt to reduce your use, you will encounter urges. These urges can be triggered by something you see or hear, but they can also just occur. Urges are part of the equation of keeping your use under control and in relapse prevention. 

Urges might sound like this for someone with a gambling problem:

  • “I feel like going for a lucky spin”
  • “I’m feeling lucky, time for a slap”
  • “I’m super stressed, I’ll play the pokies to help me relax”

Urges sound like this for someone with a gaming problem

  • “Just one more game, then I’ll start my assignment”
  • “Its already 5am, I might as well play til morning”
  • “I’m so bored, I’ll just play a round”

If you struggle with porn addiction, your urges might sound like this:

  • “Just a little more porn, then I’ll go to sleep, it helps me sleep”
  • “Nobody will know, I’ll just check out something new”
  • “I’m really horny, I’ve got to find that perfect clip”

So without going into the details of the anatomy of an urge, these might be the typical thoughts that you have when you experience an urge, desire, compulsion, pull, whatever you want to call it.

There is a harsh reality: the more we act on our urges, the stronger they become. Partly because we are building a habit just by doing something repeatedly, partly because we reward that pattern with something pleasurable, partly we deepen the beliefs that support the urge. Now, odds are you’ve fought your urges at some point in your past with self talk and willpower such as

“Come on, you don’t need this right now”
“Get yourself together”
“Be strong”

Now this works, but it’s often pretty tiring to only rely on willpower. So it’s worthwhile to build some other tools that might help manage and support you to surf out those urges. I call them the 4Ds.

  1. Deep [breath]: it’s sounds simple but it’s often overlooked. Take 4 deep abdominal breaths, observe and accept that you are having an urge, attempt to let the urge pass. Clients who can “ground”, do so. Low intensity urges can be dealt in this way
  2. Distract [yourself]: Sometimes our urges are triggered by the sight/sound/memory of our crutch, but when we really analyse the situation, we often only need to distract ourselves for a few minutes for when the urge peaks. It can be a substitute activity, listening to a favourite song, eating a nice meal, etc
  3. Delay [then delay]: use some mental jiujitsu and release some angst, if you are feeling that your urge to use is unbearable. Commit to using it tomorrow night at 8 pm, you’ll notice that the pressure might be off for a little bit. Now, come 5 pm tomorrow, reassess your urge and delay using for another 3 days. Keep practicing your delay skills and soon you’ll find that your urges can be tricked and delayed pretty often
  4. Decide [after completing the thought]: for most, urges are incomplete thoughts. If you continued challenging and completing the thoughts, you can generate the emotional state that makes it easier to say no and reduce the urge strength. Think about the most negative consequences and unpleasant emotions that you experienced when you used i.e. did you feel intense guilt after gambling away the rent, did you feel shame when you lied to your loved one, did you feel worry about being caught. Generate that memory and emotion when you experience the urge. Think through and play it forward, you should notice that the urge is reduced, and you can keep focused on the things you want to do. For some it sounds like “I feel like gambling, but the last time I felt like gambling, I lost all of my paycheck and I felt miserable. and sick, I worried for a week. I don’t want to lose any more money, I don’t want to feel miserable and sick, I’m saving up for a car and saying no to gambling means I’ll get that car at the end of the year.”

These skills really work but only with practice. You have to build them over a few weeks with daily practice. Its also important to master all of the skills and understand the nuances of them. I use Deep [Breath] as my multi-tool for low level urges and emotions. Distract [yourself] is useful for when there is a clear and specific time frame for the urge, such as driving past the usual gambling and drinking spots. For people with porn and gaming problems, sometimes its distracting themselves until the start of their sleep ritual or a partner returning home from work. Delay [then delay] is useful when those urges are lingering and building, and you’re actively trying to surf them but they seem a little resistant. Delaying releases some mental pressure, and commit to delaying again. I personally recommend really practicing Decide [after completing the thought] because it proactively reduces the urge.  The benefit is that you get to productively use all the negative emotion from the adverse consequences that your problem has caused. I’ve had clients say that [Decide] really “beats down the urge” and helps remind them, why they are cutting back. I like to think that skillfully using the negative emotion and memory of the consequences is extracting the maximum utility of your life experience to help you towards a your meaningful life [and I think that’s one damn good use of negative emotion!]

Happy recovery!

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Maroubra, NSW Sydney
(02) 9030-0301

If you’re not quite ready, visit my blog and you’ll get some helpful tips for managing your addictive habits, maintaining abstinence or controlled use.

Luke Vu is a registered psychologist practising in Maroubra Junction, supporting those who struggle with substance and online addictions. Call me or send me a message today.