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Updated on August 31, 2021

Pink Cloud Stage of Addiction Recovery

What is Pink Cloud Syndrome?

Pink cloud syndrome (PCS), also referred to as clouding, or the “honeymoon phase” of recovery, describes a stage of the addiction recovery process during which the recovering person experiences euphoria and joy. 


The Pink Cloud Foundation defines pink cloud syndrome as “the state of mind, usually experienced in early sobriety,” characterized by sudden joy and overconfidence. To some, pink cloud syndrome can feel like a “natural high” that is very similar to the “high” felt during active use of drugs or alcohol.1

Where Did The Term ‘Pink Cloud’ Originate?

The term “pink cloud” was first described by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Alcoholics Anonymous describes this period as when the recovering alcoholic loses their enthusiasm for addiction treatment during the early recovery days.2,3

The pink cloud syndrome is prevalent among those who are in early recovery from an alcohol or drug addiction.

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What Causes Pink Clouding During Addiction Recovery?

Drugs and alcohol affect the central nervous system and numb emotions, anesthetizing people from feeling anything. When recovering alcohol and drug addicts start their road to recovery, many start strong during the beginning of their recovery journey when they move into a pink cloud stage. They begin to experience positive feelings that their addiction previously suppressed.

How to Recognize the ‘Pink Cloud’ Stage of Sobriety

Symptoms of pink cloud syndrome include:

  • Extreme joy and euphoria
  • Positivity and optimism
  • Increased emotional awareness
  • A peaceful state of mind 
  • Confidence about staying sober 
  • Commitment to positive lifestyle changes

A National Institute on Drug Abuse study showed that women are more likely to experience pink cloud syndrome, as they are often more susceptible to craving and relapse than men.4

Other people who are more susceptible to developing pink cloud syndrome include younger patients and those who have a lower income.

How Long Does the Pink Clouding Stage Last?

Because every recovering person is different, there is no set timeline for when pink clouding starts and ends. Typically, people in recovery begin to feel this way once they are a few days into drug rehab. 

Some people experience this happiness for a few days, while others feel it for a few weeks. Nevertheless, the pink cloud phase does not last forever.

The pink clouding stage usually lasts a month or two, after which the pink cloud fades and the recovering person’s emotional state changes again.

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Is Pink Clouding Dangerous? What are the Consequences?

Pink cloud syndrome can help many people continue to stay sober. Although the pink cloud phase can be a very positive experience for many, there are many pitfalls associated with it. 

Pink cloud syndrome can create unrealistic expectations of an easy recovery from drug addiction. The temporary feelings caused by pink cloud syndrome can give a person the false sense that they have recovered. A person’s highest likelihood of relapse is during, or directly after, this phase.  

Someone who is “on a pink cloud” may not be attached to reality. These people can be so preoccupied with the positive feelings they are currently experiencing that they forget about the hard work they still need to do. While on the pink cloud, people may feel higher than life and disregard their responsibilities in recovery.

Even in recovery, recovering addicts still have a mental disorder and must learn techniques to manage their emotions.

It is often during this vulnerable “pink cloud” phase that many individuals are completing their inpatient program and being discharged from a treatment center or facility. Those who were recently discharged from treatment should undergo a smooth transition to sober housing to maintain sobriety and avoid relapse.

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) & Pink Clouding

Immediately following the pink cloud stage, many patients will experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), during which the recovering person will go through many physical and mental changes. 

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) can be dangerous for those who aren’t adequately prepared for it. PAWS manifests as challenging physical and mental symptoms that represent the remaining effects of addiction as the brain and body heal. 

Symptoms of PAWS can last from a few months to a couple of years and may include:  

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Mood swings
  • Intense cravings for drugs5
  • Difficulty with cognitive tasks
  • Irritability
  • Apathy or pessimism
  • Difficulty maintaining social relationships
  • Obsessive-compulsive behavior
  • Increased sensitivity to stress6

Individuals recovering from substance abuse disorders often experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome during the 18 to 24 months post-abstinence. 7

The greatest risk PAWS presents is the potential for relapse due to the detrimental effects on an individual’s physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental well-being. Withdrawal symptoms can be daunting, uncomfortable, and in some cases, dangerous. If you or a loved one is experiencing withdrawal symptoms, you must seek medical treatment.

How to Manage Pink Clouding & PAWS

Individuals undergoing treatment for substance use disorder should be made aware of all of the stages of recovery, including pink clouding and PAWS. They should be mindful that a successful recovery involves hard work and will expose them to real-life challenges as they navigate emotions that they previously have not experienced.

After detox or rehab, it’s easy to be overtaken by the pink cloud, but the key to lasting recovery is ongoing support and participation in treatment. Patients should know that the pink cloud stage doesn’t last forever, and the other stages of recovery will challenge them.

No matter how motivated recovering addicts are, they will still need help maintaining their new sober life. 

These components of continued care are fundamental to a life of lasting sobriety:

  1. Practice self-care. Substance abuse treatment professionals should remind patients to take care of and make time for themselves as they undergo significant emotional changes to avoid a relapse. Ways to practice self-care include getting adequate sleep, maintaining healthy eating habits, exercising, and drinking enough water.
  2. Develop positive coping skills. Substance abuse treatment professionals should guide patients to develop positive coping skills to learn how to handle life challenges without depending on drugs.
  3. Stay involved in a treatment program. Treatment programs like an intensive outpatient program (IOP), sober living, and recovery support provide access to medical professionals who can monitor a patient’s progress, provide counseling and support, and help prevent a relapse.
  4. Live in a healthy environment. As the patient recovers, they are more vulnerable to relapse, which is why a healthy, drug-free environment with minimal stress will help them recover. Any family members living with the patient should be supportive of their recovery journey.
  5. Seek peer support. Peer support groups and 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) will help the recovering person to find comfort in others at a similar stage in their recovery journey. At AA meetings, the patient can find relief while navigating the different emotions of recovery and receive positive encouragement while maintaining a new life, free from drugs.
  6. Create and pursue manageable goals. Some recovering addicts may feel confident that they can change their entire life all at once. However, to ensure their long-term success, people in recovery should make sure their goals are easy to track and maintain while undergoing all of the dramatic changes during recovery.

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Resources

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"Who We Are" Pink Cloud Foundation  "Is there an Alcoholic in Your Life?" Alcoholics Anonymous "The Pink Cloud and After"  AA Grapevine "Pink Cloud Syndrome Among Ruled Drug Users in Iligan City Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Center (ICDTRC)" Journal of Nursing and Health Care (JNHC)  "Post–Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, Relapse Prevention, and Homeopathy"  Alternative and Complementary Therapies Vol. 23, No. 6 "Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)" Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior ”The Impact of the Biosound Therapy System on Post-acute Withdrawal Syndrome” Brown, Dixie. Saybrook University.

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