By Sandy Baker
It’s wonderful to make it to the other side of addiction. It can feel like you’re on cloud nine. Leaving formal drug or alcohol residential treatment means you can take back your life and practice your new tools for sobriety.
Too Much of a Good Thing
But be cautious: doing too much or having overly high expectations in early recovery can be damaging. When you start to feel invincible in your recovery, this is called the pink cloud experience. If you’re not prepared for or able to manage this “high,” it can lead to relapse.
What Is the Pink Cloud Experience?
Sometimes referred to as pink cloud syndrome or pink clouding, this phenomenon describes the early stage of addiction recovery when a person may feel elated, excited, and even a sense of euphoria. They feel confident in their recovery and ready to start a new life. These aren’t bad feelings to have unless they lead you to set your expectations too high.
Some therapists refer to early recovery as the honeymoon phase in the drug and alcohol treatment process. You’re feeling happy and optimistic, with images of a perfect future playing out before you. The problem happens when the happy feelings end, reality sets in, and the work of recovery becomes much more challenging.
As noted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 40 to 60 percent of people will relapse. Many of these relapses occur in the first 30 to 90 days after leaving formal treatment. Relapse rates start to fall after three years of sobriety. The pink cloud experience doesn’t often last that full 90 days, leaving people vulnerable to relapse.
Are You Struggling with the Pink Cloud Experience?
Men and women in early drug and alcohol recovery are most at risk for this condition. They have undergone treatment, received therapy, made major life changes, and are ready to conquer recovery. But, even when everything feels good, it’s important to be grounded in what addiction recovery means. That’s why you need to see the signs of the pink cloud experience as they are happening–signs such as the following:
- You have a hopeful outlook.
- You feel extreme joy most of the day.
- You are preoccupied with every positive factor of recovery.
- You lack focus and tend to downplay the hard work ahead.
- You are fully confident in your ability to remain sober.
When you notice yourself having these feelings and attitudes, you can enjoy their pleasant results while also knowing that they won’t last forever. Some things you’ll want to remember:
- Recovery takes time: Your body and brain need more time to heal. Leaving formal inpatient treatment doesn’t mean you’re cured. Recognizing and focusing on this helps to keep you aware of both good and bad feelings as temporary.
- Stress will happen: Most people feel stress during their lifetime. If you’re feeling euphoric after recovery, it can feel especially awful when life gets stressful again. Not being ready for stress leaves you vulnerable to negative outcomes.
- You still have to manage daily challenges: This may include going to work, meeting responsibilities at home, interacting with others, repairing relationships, and much more.
You don’t have to give up the pink cloud feelings you have. Rather, you just need to be aware that they won’t last–just as the pain and disappointment you will sometimes feel will also be temporary.
What Can You Do to Achieve the Best Outcome?
Our goal here isn’t to make you feel scared or depressed about recovery. Recovery is indeed a wonderful experience with wonderful feelings. You should feel happy and proud of yourself. Yet you should also work with a therapist or recovery mentor on being realistic and creating healthy goals.
Focus on the good things you are feeling today but continue to work on your recovery. Go to recovery meetings, talk with sober friends. Continue to tell yourself you have work to do to maintain your sobriety and health. Establish routines for yourself. Work towards physical fitness. Invest in nutritional wellness.
You can also set goals. Make them small, attainable, and manageable. That may mean giving yourself time to achieve your goals more effectively or simply setting smaller goals that lead to a bigger outcome.
Finally, know that if you ever feel in danger of relapse, our team at The Ranch at Dove Tree would be happy to talk with you about your options for getting support. Relapse isn’t the end; it’s just an opportunity to fine-tune your recovery plan, learn more about yourself, and move forward once more.