Pink clouding, or pink cloud syndrome, describes a stage of early addiction recovery that involves feelings of euphoria and elation. When you’re in this phase, you feel confident and excited about recovery.
Think of it as a honeymoon phase, says Cyndi Turner, LCSW, LSATP, MAC, the co-founder and clinical director of Insight Into Action Therapy in Virginia.
The problem with pink cloud syndrome is that it doesn’t last forever, and coming out of this phase can sometimes have a negative impact on your recovery.
Here’s a look at the signs of pink clouding and tips for making the most of this recovery stage.
If you’ve recently started your recovery process and are feeling pretty great, you’re probably pink clouding.
In most cases, you’ve just come through on the other side of withdrawal, which probably involved quite a bit of physical and emotional distress.
Suddenly, you finally begin to feel really, really good. Your eyes open to the great things in life, and you look forward to every day with enthusiasm and hope.
Pink clouding may not happen in exactly the same way for everyone, but common feelings and experiences include:
- feelings of euphoria and extreme joy
- a hopeful outlook
- positivity and optimism about recovery
- a calm or peaceful state of mind
- confidence about your ability to maintain sobriety
- preoccupation with the positive aspects of recovery
- commitment to positive lifestyle changes
- increased emotional awareness
- a tendency to overlook the hard word necessary to maintain sobriety
There’s no definitive timeline when it comes to pink clouding. Some people feel the effects within days of starting recovery, while others experience it a few weeks in.
How long it lasts is similarly inconsistent. Some people experience it for a few weeks. Others find that the effects last for several months.
Addiction can create a lot of distress in your life and relationships with others. It can also numb or mute your emotional experience, making it tough to get much enjoyment from anything at all.
Pink clouding offers a much-needed perspective shift. If you haven’t felt optimistic or excited about life in a long time, you might feel even more enticed by this vision of what life can look like.
During this phase, you’re probably also getting back into touch with your emotions. It can feel exhilarating to experience things like hope, joy, and excitement again.
The euphoria of pink clouding can make you feel like you’re, well, in a cloud. And when you’re on top of the world, you might not give too much thought to ordinary life below.
There’s no clear time frame for how long the pink cloud stage lasts, but people who have experienced this phenomenon agree: It does end at some point.
As this stage ends, Turner explains, the reality of recovery work begins to set in.
“Recovery takes effort every day to implement a balanced lifestyle, utilize alternative coping skills, repair relationships, and plan for the future,” Turner explains. “The pink cloud phase isn’t sustainable, so it can create unrealistic expectations that set people up for relapse.”
As part of recovery, you’ll begin getting back in touch with the challenges of daily life.
This includes things like:
- going to work
- managing household responsibilities
- interacting with your partner, children, friends, and family members
- committing to your treatment program or therapy sessions
This return to responsibilities can seem like an extreme low. You may even wonder what’s the point when it comes to your sobriety, which can make it easier to fall back on old habits.
“Many people return to substance use in the first 90 days of abstinence,” Turner says.
She goes on to explain this often happens when people don’t experience as much change as they did early on, or when the reality of having to make consistent small decisions begins to overwhelm them.
The pink cloud phase doesn’t have to end with an extreme low.
“Anything that has a sharp high will have a jagged low,” Turner points out. “It’s more realistic to experience life with rolling, manageable waves. Understanding what to expect in recovery makes it easier to maintain a healthy lifestyle, where small choices add up to long-term success.”
Here are a few pointers for striking a balance and making the most out of this phase.
It’s a lot easier to learn about and prepare for the challenges ahead when you’re feeling good and have an optimistic outlook.
Now is a great time to learn more about the steps and typical phases of addiction recovery.
It might help to also come up with some loose plans of how you’ll deal with future urges to drink or use substances.
A mental health professional can also help you with this down the line (more on this later).
Carry the positive feelings with you
The pink cloud phase won’t last forever, but you can still hold on to how it feels.
Consider keeping a journal during this period that you can refer to later.
Imagine yourself on a rough day 6 months down the road: You’ve had a stressful day at work and all you want is a drink. You start questioning why you’re putting yourself through this and begin to doubt your strength.
What would you — the pink-cloud you who’s filled to the brim with hope and optimism — want to say to your future self?
Recovery is hard work, but you’ll get back to this point again. The good things in life will still be there; they don’t fade when the euphoria does.
Focus on small, manageable goals
During the pink cloud phase, it’s tempting to make a bunch of sweeping changes.
You might try things like:
- getting into a new exercise routine
- committing to 9 hours of sleep every night
- improving your eating habits
- jumping headfirst into meditation or other wellness practices
These can all be great things, but balance is key. Overloading on goals or new habits can backfire if you get burned out and don’t feel up to doing much of anything.
If these habits fall through after pink clouding, you might end up disappointed with yourself.
Instead, focus on one or two changes you really want to make, and let go of what you think you should do. There will be plenty of time to tackle other self-improvement projects in the future.
Get extra support
You’ve probably heard of AA and other 12-step programs, but they aren’t the only approaches to dealing with addiction.
If you haven’t already, consider looking into therapy. You can work with a therapist who specializes in addiction treatment, or follow a different treatment plan while also working with a therapist to address other challenges in your life.
It’s better to get this kind of support in place before you deal with life challenges after the pink cloud phase.
This is also a great time to connect with others going through a similar process who might be able to offer more insight about pink clouding and how to handle the road ahead.
Not sure how to connect? Look for support groups in your area, or ask your healthcare provider for some recommendations.
You can even try joining an online community like Reddit.
Self-care, self-care, self-care
And one more time: Self-care.
In recovery, it’s essential to take care of your own needs. This gives you the strength and emotional fortitude to face the challenges ahead.
Self-care can mean you practice healthy habits, like:
- eating balanced meals
- sleeping well
- drinking enough water
But taking care of yourself also involves things like:
- finding out what helps you relax
- keeping up with (or getting back into) hobbies you enjoy
- connecting with your loved ones
- giving yourself permission to take a day off and do nothing
Again, balance is essential. It’s healthy to make time not just for the things you have to do, but also the things you enjoy doing.
The pink cloud phase of recovery can fill you with confidence and hope, and it’s pretty normal to get caught up in these feelings.
Try to enjoy this phase while it lasts, and use the boost to your mood to prepare yourself for the road ahead.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.