Instant Gratification

What is the problem of instant gratification? Or why you should not feed your PIGs to beat your addiction.

'Instant Grat' is the thinking pattern which addicts and problematic drinkers have developed to manage how they feel. They have taught themselves that instead of dealing with thoughts and feelings safely they will just act on them. Whenever they get a negative thought in their head, they act on it. E.g. I feel stressed they automatically think about how can I feel better. They use their addictive behaviour to change this feeling instead of delaying this action and allowing this thought and feeling to pass. This behaviour becomes so entrenched that they feel unable to respond any differently after a period of time. So a key aspect of recovery from any addictive behaviour it to regain control of impulsive thoughts, feelings and behaviours.


To help you maintain your recovery, having an understanding of this is essential. People in active addiction and early recovery have developed a way of thinking which confuses wants and needs. Through cravings, the person in addiction experiences sustained and all consuming thoughts about the thing which they are addicted to. Acting on these thoughts makes addiction more powerful.


These impulsive thoughts of those who experience instant gratification become so common that they dominate their whole being. The more this behaviour is repeated the more powerful the drive to act impulsively becomes.

End the cycle of destructive behaviour

These cravings and urges are not real, only thoughts, and like all thoughts they will soon be replaced with other thoughts, if they are allowed the time to do so. Urge surfing is a good way of dealing with these thoughts, however addicts instead often believe they need to act on these thoughts which starts a cycle of destructive behaviour. This is because they believe that they have to respond to this thought, which in turn reinforces the use of this behaviour the next time they have this thought. If you are trying to regain control of a problematic behaviour, whether is is gambling, alcohol use, drugs, work, self harm or even sex then recognising that instant gratification is affecting how you are coping is one of the key pieces of self awareness which will allow you to address your issues.

Feeding Instant Gratification will only make the problem worse

By continuing to use each time you have a thought and a feeling will only make the desire to repeat this pattern of behaviour stronger and the urges to adopt this addictive behaviour more common in your life. The key to beating any addictive behaviour is to NOT ACT ON INSTANT GRATIFICATION but instead to break this habit by doing something different.


At a basic neuroscience level the addict is now teaching themselves to associate the thought with a feeling and also an unnecessary behaviour. Urges will subside, the desire to respond to instant gratification will reduce and the error of mistaking a want with a need will be less common if you choose not to act on this thought.

Ignorance is bliss

Over time, if you continue to ignore these urges they will become less common, less in tense and lessen to such an extent that they will cease as long as you do not act on these cravings.


The Problem of Instant Gratification (PIG) then, is about recognising the difference between responding to  wants and not needs to change feelings instantly.

From one addictive behaviour to another

People who have achieved recovery from one addictive behaviour whether it was alcohol, drugs, gambling or self harm still need to manage Instant Gratification. Addicts have taught themselves to change how they feel by adopting an instant reward which makes them feel better. Some people find they are able to beat the thing that they are addicted to (gambling, sex, shopping, etc) without addressing this thinking pattern. The longer term risk for those who have found their recovery without addressing changing this thinking pattern is that they may adopt a new way to manage their feelings in the future. Many people map their impulsive behaviour from their initial addiction into another behaviour such as impulse shopping, using another substance or food. This can and often does develop into a problematic addictive behaviour. Some of the more common examples include moving from Heroin to alcohol or from alcohol to shopping.

How to beat instant gratification

The key to dealing with the problem of instant gratification is self control. This means regaining the upper hand by having some tools which you can access to help you gain self control instead of combating an urge with will power. Some useful tools stemming from the SMART Recovery Toolkit can include:

1. Delay acting

Delaying doing anything as the thought will disappear given time, usually 10-30 minutes.

Acting now on this feeling or this thought may result in you making a poor choice.

Instead choose to do nothing, just make yourself aware that this thought is not going to harm you but what you do about this thought may undermine your recovery and result in your lapsing.

2. Escape, move away from where you are

Escaping the environment that you are in. For you to be thinking about an activity something must have set you off or triggered you. It could be a smell or a song which takes you back, something on tv, the venue you are in or even just the feel of the surrounding touching you. You can be triggered by any one of your senses and so moving yourself to a new environment will remove you from the trigger and so reduce your desire to adopt the addictive behaviour.

3. Try Urge Surfing your way out of trouble

Accept what is going on and use the Urge Surfing technique to take you safely through this experience and through to another thought pattern. Practising this technique can result in a calm relaxing urge that can be enjoyed instead of endured.

4. Dispute that Thought

Dispute the Urge to use by testing out the validity of the thought. A using urge may direct you to think “I have to use”. This can be disputed by asking the question, “If I did not use would anything bad happen?” Then I do not have to use. I just want to use”. The disputing approach encourages the person experiencing the urge to step back, identify precisely the thought and it’s reason for urging the use of the addictive behaviour and test the validity of what the urge is built on.

5. Substitute that negative thought

Substitute your negative thought for a more useful one. Your brain can only deal with one thought at a time so to move away from an urge, chose a healthy thought. Distracting yourself is easy to do and practical for anyone. Some people adopt an alternative activity to help with distraction try cleaning, reading or calling someone.

6. Plan some distractions for when you need them

Equally effective can be having a stock of mental distractions to occupy you when urges emerge. This can be puzzles, planning the decorating in the spare room and even visualisation activities (imagining going for a walk, swim or drive, where you feel safe and calm focusing on all the sights you would see on your journey).

For more information on addiction treatment or hypnosis

Contact Positive Hypnosis here for more information on addiction treatment or hypnosis. Appointments available internationally via Skype or face to face in Sheffield UK Book here.

Return to Home Page from Instant Gratification

Return to Top