Craving is the desire for a drug or alcohol. An urge is an internal sensation, a subtle pressure pushing you to get ready to act on a craving. Craving is associated with wanting and an urge with doing. The urge is the feeling that comes after you begin experiencing a craving. You experience a craving or a desire to get high and then a desire to feel relief from this discomfort. The urge is the actual internal feeling of pressure to act on the craving. In between your sensation of craving and the urge to use is a moment of time (Beck, Wright, Newman, & Liese, 1993).
An urge is the intention to carry out a specific behavior. The urge can be started by unpleasant feelings such as anger, frustration or anxiety or by the expectation of an unpleasant, stressful event. If you act on your urge, you will use. Using will reduce craving and you will have a momentary reduction of frustration, anger, and anxiety (Beck, Wright, Newman, & Liese, 1993). But, you will also be back on the trail to an addiction lifestyle. That’s not what you want.
Between cravings and the urge to use is your opportunity for action. There is a time interval or delay between the craving and acting on it to obtain drugs or alcohol. This delay gives you a window of time to use control or willpower. Willpower is active. It is using self-help techniques. It is not simply passive endurance of discomfort.
Extending the time period between the craving and the use of drugs and alcohol creates a natural decrease of the craving episode. It lowers the chance that you will decide to act on the craving. The longer you don’t act on the craving, the less intense the craving is. Urges to use are about anticipated outcomes. Urges to use anticipate a positive reward for using and feeling high and a negative experience for not doing it, such as experiencing craving (Beck, Wright, Newman, & Liese, 1993).
Some people confuse an urge with a need. They say they need a drink as though they would not be able to function and would die without it. Such a belief is dysfunctional and not reality based. Dysfunctional beliefs play a huge role in the generation of urges. Dysfunctional beliefs fail to perform the function that is normally expected of a realistic belief, that is, to guide you in acting or responding in a way that supports your goals (Beck, Wright, Newman, & Liese, 1993).