At first, emerging from years (or even decades) of a drug or alcohol-induced haze is exhilarating. Reality hasn’t quite settled in yet, you’re feeling rejuvenated, and being reintroduced to one’s unfettered thoughts and abilities almost feels like being a kid again–you feel the boundless energy and wonder of youth, only with the added intelligence, independence, and resources of an adult. This feeling of being “high on life” actually has a name in recovery: it’s called the pink cloud.

Pink Cloud in Early Recovery

Riding the pink cloud is amazing. It feels great, and to some extent, it’s a healthy experience of joy in early recovery. After all, you’re not actually getting high, and you seem to be avoiding the misery associated with addiction withdrawal. Paradoxically, though, the pink cloud is a major cause of relapse as time goes on.

So what is this “pink cloud”, exactly?

Here’s the pink cloud summed up with three platitudes.

Every cloud has a silver lining.

Dude has his head in the clouds.

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

The pink cloud is easier to understand if you step back and look at recovery as a timeline. Recovering addicts and alcoholics board the pink cloud at different stages. This is based on many factors: their individual personality, the severity of withdrawal symptoms, their treatment circumstances, their life circumstances in general, and more. Regardless, riding the pink cloud is an experience that can be harmless as long as the person understands what’s happening.

Pink Cloud as a Coping Mechanism

We all respond differently to life stressors. Though the hyper-optimism of the pink cloud may not have manifested as a coping mechanism previously, recovery is a unique stage of life for most of us. It’s a period of change and adjustment. But there’s good news: responding to stress with optimism can be a healthy manifestation of the pink cloud. When a person in recovery sees their life has become a shit storm and decides to answer it with a smile, that can be a good thing.

What’s even happening with me? I should be feeling overwhelmed by it all–drug court, enrolling back into school, juggling a job where I’m underpaid and they don’t appreciate me… but somehow, it’s all good. I haven’t been in this good of a mood in years, and I feel way happier than I really should.

Whatever the circumstances may be, being optimistic about one’s circumstances is normal and healthy, with one major contingency…

Avoid Bottling Up, and Don’t Lie

Being dishonest in treatment isn’t doing anyone any favors. Lip service might get some family off your back temporarily, but placating them with lies about how happy you are in recovery only stalls (and can even encourage) the inevitable. The cloud becomes detrimental when it becomes more like “cloud cover” for negative feelings. It’s normal and expected to feel shitty in treatment. Naming those bad emotions and throwing them center stage actually takes power away from them, whereas lying about them tends to do the opposite.

So don’t bottle up. Riding the pink cloud is okay as long as you are honestly acknowledging and expressing the bad feelings as well. Group therapy is great for those kinds of expressions. For more information on how the pink cloud factors into a treatment program, call our addiction counselors today: 855-737-7363