What Happens After Detox and Treatment Begins?

Addiction can happen slowly over the years, moving from abuse of substances to addiction. It can happen quickly, as is the case with certain drugs. Either way, as an individual moves through detox (the act of detoxifying from the chemical and psychological impact of substances), the toxins which have altered brain function are diminished. Often after this process, there is a new sensation that people can experience. Sometimes this sensation happens within days or the first few months of recovery. This sensation is known as the pink cloud syndrome.

The pink cloud syndrome produces a feeling of euphoria or joy associated with being freed from the burden of addiction and with the changes in the body. A person may experience relief at no longer having to chase a high and bear the symptoms of withdrawal till the next fix. While feeling wonderful about being free of substances is not bad, the pink cloud syndrome can harm recovery. The sense of relief and feeling good can interfere with the necessary steps in recovery: learning new life skills, learning relapse prevention, medication management (as needed), learning healthy forms of having a good time, addressing unhealthy relationship dynamics and decision-making, and a host of other significant tools that solidify the foundation of recovery.

Symptoms of Pink Cloud Syndrome

  • 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 work necessary to maintain sobriety

These symptoms may sound positive, and in some respects, they are. However, these feelings can lead the newly recovering addict to become complacent about treatment, attending 12-step meetings, going to therapy, and feeling overly confident that he/she/they have the addiction under control.

Recovery takes focused work every day. Daily living involves handling a variety of conflicts, disappointments, and challenges, as well as exciting, joyful moments. Treatment and aftercare teach and support an addict’s ability to manage the variety of daily feelings, others’ expectations, and one’s desires. The life skill tools taught in treatment give the user a solid foundation to manage life without drugs or alcohol. And it takes time for the brain to fully heal from changes brought on by alcohol and substance abuse. Despite the often-euphoric feelings associated with the pink cloud syndrome, the sensation will not last forever. That is a known fact!

The danger associated with pink cloud syndrome is the delusion that the addict, who is now feeling better, can manage the triggers that set off the behavior known as relapsing (returning to drug and alcohol use). Treatment and recovery goals are to build one’s ability to maintain an even balance with one’s feelings daily. One does not want intense swings of joy and deep lows. For this reason, learning about triggers (people, places, situations that set off cravings to use) such as unhealthy expectations, unrealistic goals (especially in early sobriety), work pressures, and family dynamics can be countered through relapse prevention. Because the pink cloud syndrome can be so dangerous, a person in treatment must learn the stages of recovery to understand the dynamics that may occur in his/her/their thinking.

According to Terrance Gorski, there are six stages of recovery. Gorski created recovery and relapse prevention models for both the regular population and those in the judicial system.

Six Stages of Recovery

  • Transition: acknowledging the problem and seeking help
  • Stabilization: managing withdrawal symptoms (with medical guidance) and learning the physical, emotional, and mental toll of drug/substance abuse on the body and brain through treatment programs
  • Early recovery: once in treatment, a person must look honestly at his/her/their life and begin to make changes in his/her/their thinking
  • Middle recovery: once the recovering person is stabilized in early recovery, job and relationships (including those one is used to) must be carefully examined. This is a time when family treatment becomes crucial
  • Late recovery: during this phase of healing, a person must continue to examine old habits, perspectives, and relationships and make changes that will reinforce a healthy, productive lifestyle
  • Maintenance: during maintenance, people strengthen the tools they have learned throughout recovery and learn to manage feelings, cravings, and desires in new ways. Healthy lifestyle changes (diet, exercise, new friends) are implemented as the recovering person learns to live without drugs or alcohol, especially when he/she/they are feeling happy or sad (angry, challenged, scared), etc.

Gorski believed that if one understood what triggers may be present in one’s life, he/she/they could prevent them from causing a relapse. It is important to remember that relapse is possible at every stage of recovery. Relapse doesn’t suddenly happen; it is a process that sometimes lasts weeks or months.

The newly recovering addict has not developed a strong “program” to help him/her/them move through triggers. The associated feelings of the pink cloud are distorted as recovery is usually new. The addict does not yet understand the risk of delusional thinking or overconfidence and is more likely to succumb to relapse. Finishing treatment, engaging in aftercare programs, and attending meetings such as 12 Step meetings help secure recovery. One of the critical aspects of recovery is to maintain a group of people in recovery with whom you can share your thoughts and feelings. The pink cloud syndrome is dangerous because the addict tends to believe he/she/they are cured and can manage any challenge.

Five Rules for Relapse Prevention

  • Change your life (recovery involves creating a new life where it is easier not to use)
  • Be completely honest
  • Ask for help
  • Practice self-care
  • Don’t bend the rules

The Downside of Feeling Euphoric about Being on a Pink Cloud

It may seem counterintuitive to state that feeling good has a downside. However, when it comes to addictive behavior, the perception is altered. Since addicts have spent so much time lying, cheating, stealing, and avoiding the consequences of their actions, the shift to being clean and sober does feel invigorating. While it is wonderful to feel a surge of energy rush through your body and experience life and emotions anew, this pattern, under the pink cloud syndrome, is dangerous. It is accurate to say that you, your body, and your mind have not felt clarity in a long time. But the intensity of the pink cloud is not sustainable. And when it ends, the letdown can feel harsh. There is a saying in 12 Step Programs: It gets better, gets worse, and gets different. The worse refers to confronting long-held perceptions and behaviors that are harmful. This process is necessary to move to the next stage: it gets different.

Participating in an addiction treatment program is the best way to manage the euphoria and maintain recovery. The program should be licensed and operated by medical and clinical staff who can re-evaluate the addict’s progress regularly. Various therapies will help the addict address the issues that may confront him/her/them, sometimes for the first time.

If you are serious about recovery, call today to start a treatment program specifically for your needs. There is nothing to fear from a pink cloud if you understand what is happening to your mind, your emotions, and your body.