Let’s imagine a scenario. You filled your body with drugs or alcohol for twenty straight years but finally decided to get sober. You went through a professional drug detox to properly flush all substances from your body and enrolled in an inpatient treatment center for proper counseling and relapse prevention. You’ve done everything you needed to do and it’s working – you feel fantastic.
There’s no way you’ll ever return to drugs or alcohol ever again, not when you feel as exhilarated as you do to be sober – so what’s the problem? You’re riding too high on the pink cloud and reality will soon set in.
The pink cloud has many benefits, but it has many dangers. You’ll have often heard about the pink cloud early in recovery, but what’s so bad about feeling great? Let’s learn more about the pink cloud including what it is, what normally happens for addicts on the cloud, and how to protect your sobriety when that cloud disappears.
What Do Clouds Have to Do with Recovery?
The Pink Cloud is an old Alcoholics Anonymous term but is now known more officially known as ‘Pink Cloud Syndrome.’ Pink Cloud Syndrome is a phenomenon that occurs in patients directly after acute detox. It refers to an almost euphoric feeling felt by recovering alcoholics and addicts that can be both harmful and helpful, depending on how the addict reacts to their pink cloud feelings. Those on the Pink Cloud are riding high, are happy, and feel free from their addiction.
What Causes the Pink Cloud?
Many recovering addicts and alcoholics feel thrilled when they first get sober. It’s the first time in months or years they’ve been able to think straight, not feel negative health consequences from their addiction, and their brain is happy not to be clogged with unwanted chemicals. The veil of addiction has been lifted and people can see a positive future again.
For many addicts, it’s the first concrete steps to get their life back together. The combination of detox and new rosy outlook on life can make recovering addicts feel like they can conquer the world. Not all recovering addicts will experience this phenomenon or PAWS (which we’ll learn more about below) but all should plan for it.
Why is the Pink Cloud Dangerous?
The Pink Cloud is named for a cloud because they disappear over time. You might be riding high for the first several days or weeks after you first get sober but like actual clouds the feeling is fleeting. When an addict is riding high on this so called cloud, they may not take all the recommended steps to keep themselves sober. The thought process is simple, “I feel great and never ever want to use drugs or alcohol again, so I don’t need to do these continuing exercises like 12-step meetings or gratitude lists.”
Recovering addicts feel overconfidence that they’re not like everyone else, and all they needed was a few clean days of sobriety to get back on track. Unfortunately, this is almost never the case. Early feelings of euphoria are undoubtedly helpful to addicts in early recovery, but only if they keep following advice, keep building guards against relapse, and are mentally prepared for what comes after the Pink Cloud, like Post-Acute Withdrawal syndrome.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) often follows the pink cloud and can create many potential dangers for alcoholics and addicts who aren’t mentally prepared for it. PAWS represents the lingering effects of drug and alcohol addiction as your brain slowly heals itself and your body. PAWs symptoms can last anywhere from a few months to around two years and may include symptoms like:
- Trouble sleeping
- Mood swings
Those who are properly prepared for the disappearance of the Pink Cloud and the emergence of PAWs have the most likely chance at continued sobriety, but how do you keep fighting addiction if you’re not in a treatment center anymore?
Steps to Take Against the Pink Cloud
A large part of helping yourself through Pink Cloud and PAWs are knowing what they are and why you’re feeling the way you do. Simply knowing the Pink Cloud is temporary and likely to disappear can help many in recovery mentally prepare for oncoming issues.
Recovering alcoholics and addicts much establish boundaries and accountability. Boundaries might include not talking to certain people or visiting certain places while accountability can involve regularly attending 12-step meetings, talking with a sponsor, or taking advantage of aftercare programs.
Most professional drug addiction treatment centers offer follow up or aftercare programs, so you won’t lose momentum. Aftercare programs could include weekly meetings or monthly check-ins where you can discuss your recovery progress and any issues you’re facing. Any aftercare program will help increase your chances of long-term sobriety.
Other Relapse Prevention Tools
Any reputable treatment center makes relapse prevention one of the most important parts of addiction treatment. You don’t have to attend a treatment program to craft your own relapse prevention program, but you should absolutely get approval for your plan from a 12-step sponsor or someone with several years of sobriety.
Relapse prevention tools include boundaries, accountability, and aftercare found above, but can also include daily relapse prevention chores like gratitude lists, meditation, practicing mindfulness, follow-up counseling, and much more. The more tools you have in your relapse prevention plan, the more likely you’ll maintain sobriety.
Ride the Pink Cloud Carefully
There is nothing wrong with feeling great during early recovery and never wanting to go back to addiction, but there is something wrong if you try to ride that temporary feeling for lifelong sobriety. Don’t let the Pink Cloud give you overconfidence that you can beat addiction on your own and plan for the bad times that can come when the Pink Cloud disappears. With prior knowledge that’s it temporary and steps to take when it disappears, you can be prepared for it.