Pink Cloud Syndrome: The Dangerous Euphoria Following Recovery

Last Updated: July 6, 2020

Authored by Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

The pink cloud is a phenomenon that’s common among people in their early recovery (observed for the first time in AA members), which has helped many continue through the skies of sobriety.
The pink cloud can carry an addict on the wings of joy. Many users admit that this feeling of excitement has given them hope after the pain and the struggles their addiction has brought into their lives. But it can also cause dangerous overconfidence that can lead to a relapse.

What is the Pink Cloud Syndrome?

In addiction recovery, the “pink cloud” is a term used to describe a high-on-life feeling in one’s journey to recovery. The Pink Cloud Syndrome is a curious but often short-lived phenomenon. Many people, after detoxing, feel too good about their journey to recovery, as they’re finally able to see the real world behind a curtain of pills, drinks, and needles.

Cheerful diverse people having pink cloud syndrome

How Dangerous Is The Pink Cloud Syndrome For Addiction Recovery?

In recovery, pink clouds are common phenomena, but can provide unrealistic expectations. While the feelings of happiness may bring hope to people, they have a dark side, in that the feelings can be self-effected mechanisms that stop people from seeing their real problems. Those delusions can bring over-confidence and disappointment, which can lead back to relapse.

The Pink Cloud Of Happiness

The pink cloud in addiction is a term used to describe a curious but short-lived phenomenon in one’s recovery odyssey. It means to be “high on life”. Many people after detox feel too good about their recovery as they’re finally able to see the real world.

expression of high-on-life feeling

The Dark Side Of The Pink Clouds

Although being positive is a good feeling during recovery, the Pink Cloud Syndrome in addiction is used mainly as a negative term. Many people who are trying to stay clean are exposed to various extremes. Life is never fine for an addicted individual: it fluctuates between drama and euphoria.

Being on a pink cloud can sometimes mean a detachment from reality: people become preoccupied with the good feelings and forget about the journey in front of them. The pink cloud can also be seen as a kind of natural high and defense mechanism, which helps people ignore all the familial, financial and legal issues that they have to deal with.
An addict’s life is a roller coaster of emotions, and emotions are what trigger an addiction in the first place. Like any roller coaster, it’s not possible to stay joyful and delusional all the time: eventually, one will come closer to the ground, and that can bring too much disappointment to handle. Drug rehab counselors can use several techniques to deal with that disappointment in patients.

Roller Coaster Loops
The real world and all the problems that one is still facing can hit, and that can be the first step to relapse.
Many specialists, such as Professor Andrea King, director of the Clinical Addictions Research Laboratory at the University of Chicago, believe that the Pink Cloud Syndrome is risky because being irrational is a major obstacle to the addiction recovery.

Getting Off Of The Pink Clouds

The pink cloud phenomenon is an individual process, and its duration can vary between individuals. Some people that have lost everything can be happy for years during recovery; others can come back to reality soon after detox. Enrolling in aftercare programs is advisable for such patients to avoid relapse after completing a treatment program.

Many people in their treatment for addiction think that they’ll never face any pain and that they are cured. Addicts can feel too confident and may start to believe that the key to recovery is only in their hands: they forget that recovery is a long process, and not an on-off switch.

Page Sources

  1. Egli M., Koob G. F., Edwards S. Alcohol dependence as a chronic pain disorder. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. 2012; 36(10): 2179–2192. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2012.07.010.
  2. Goldschmidt K. WITHDRAWN: The "Pink Cloud" Technology to Curb Addictions. 2017; S0882-5963(17)30554-7. doi: 10.1016/j.pedn.2017.11.010.
  3. Miele G. M., Trautman K., D., Hasin D., S. Assessing Comorbid Mental and Substance-Use Disorders: A Guide for Clinical Practice. Journal of practical psychiatry and behavioral health. 1996; 272-282.

Published on: December 1st, 2016

Updated on: July 6th, 2020

About Author

Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Dr. Ahmed Zayed is a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery. He is graduated from the University of Alexandria, Egypt. Dr. Ahmed Zayed has a passion for writing medical and health care articles and focuses on providing engaging and trustworthy information to readers.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.


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  • Kristin
    This is why AA is failing
    • John
      On the contrary, AA is doing great. I do understand that some meetings have gotten away from the big book but there is a serious effort happening in AA to return primarily to the big book way of teaching. In Connecticut, AA is very strong and has helped hundreds of thousands get and stay sober.
      • Big d money
        Just a friendly comment: Why use the “ big book” when u can choose the “Good Book”. Yes I agree that AA is helping many get and stay sober. Why stop there when you can achieve true joy and peace Through serving and worshiping the true living God with a King James Bible. In AA you chose a “higher power” and this is a dangerous approach for ones spirit. Worship can be explained by how worthy something is of ones time and attention, “how worthy something is” and Surrendering to any higher power other then the one true God is worship of satan through the use of false idols. For satan is a higher power then oneself. Believe it or not satan can help you be happy and sober. He doesn’t care if your sober or drunk so much as long as you are never born again through the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ. God is worthy! Stop feeling guilty and be forgiven! God can take your mountain just the same as he can choose to give you a mountain. God gives us hardships to make us stronger and to give us opportunities to lean on him. God wants to carry your burdens. It’s ok to go to meetings and talk sure but the whole program is inspired by the Christian faith and the Teachings of the King James Bible. So I leave you with this; go acquire a King James Bible (the “inspired word of God” written by men through the Holy Ghost) while you are still able! Before the age of grace is over. While your still alive… I hope all lost souls that read this heed my advice and find a desire to serve the lord. Search Pastor Ron Rauph of Tennessee if interested in hearing the truth about the lord.
        • Ann P.
          Pastor, while your message is very valid from a Christian perspective, it’s missing the mark on recovery from addiction. While AA is a spiritual program of recovery, it’s first goal is to help the alcoholic determine that he or she is powerless over alcohol and that only a Higher Power could and would relieve the obsession to drink, if He were sought. Perhaps finding a local AA Intergroup office and speaking with the CPC Chairperson could help you foster a relationship with alcoholics in your area who are seeking the message you carry.
        • TH
          Sometimes the good book can be a trigger, excuse NOT to get sober, or involves anger and resentment to people who had it shoved down their throat. And to avoid it esp at first may be because of the feeling that God had abandoned them during their drinking days.
        • Fitjarald
          Yup… That message right there is what took me so long to go to my first AA meeting. The judgement, and immediate threat of satan, the “I actually know what the best path for you is” attitude… I’ve never met a more supportive group of people than I’ve found in AA, and, a more accepting group of people even when disagreements arise. On the contrary, growing up as a Pastors son, I can count on 1 hand the number of christians I honestly foster a relationship with, due to the judgment they place on others. The Big Book says, “Who’s to say that their idea of God is correct?” – Pastor, certainly you don’t assume you know God, and how he reveals himself to everyone. A bit of humility will go a long way in fostering an environment that supports alcoholics, rather than shames them into recovery. Fear, shame, resentment – these will not lead to long term sobriety.
          • TH
            Nicely said, Fitjarald.
        • Marnie
          Well, not all people are religious, or even believers, so there’s that. AA has been successful for millions of people. Whatever works for each individual is the key. We can offer suggestions but not push our own agendas. Hoping your faith is working for you
        • Bill Cano
          O KAY WOW !!! History lesson we in AA started out of the Oxford Christian group in the 1930ths and by time the book Alcoholic Anonymous came out in 1939 , the NY group then the Cleveland group and finally the Akron group broke away from the Christian teaching group . Now i don’t want to step on your Born Again Pink Christian cloud but if you are a member of AA we have a Book you need to study . Now i will direct your attention to different readings in the Big Book . Pg xiv first paragraph , 3rd step , pg 95 top paragraph , pg 567 pg 572 . Then the book Twelve steps and 12 Twelve traditions = step 2 , step 3 , step 11 , step 12 , tradition 2 , tradition 10 all these pages talk about ” Higher Power or God as we understood him ” . We in AA are a Spiritual program of action not a Born Again Religious group . If an individual wishes to be a Christian more power to him but Donot preach your Religion to us . Bill W. found that out in trying to get drunks sober , he went back to Dr. Silkworth and complained that no one was getting sober . Dr. Silkworth told him flat out ” Stop Preaching ” . I hope and pray you read the Big Bookand study AA history !!!!!!!
        • WendyC
          The Big Book was a gift from the creator of the Good Book sir. It helps some find their HP because some have been detached for so long from peace joy and love that the concept of God is overwhelming. I am happy for you if that is not something you have ever experienced. But for some to even accept the concept of a HP is very difficult. The principles laid out in the Big Book can be held up to the scrutiny of any widely accepted religions of the world and pass with flying colors. Jesus, Buddha, Krishna…etc would not be offended by the Big Book! Nor would Jesus try to lead addicts away from it. It’s not in competition with religion or the BIBLE.. 12 step programs are there to be of service to people suffering due to addiction and dysfunction. Those helped pick up the torch and pay it forward with their service. But it’s not a religion or sub for it. But it may bring people BACK to church!
        • Smilley
          Amen! Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Him. The devil came to kill, rob and destroy but Jesus came to give life and life abundantly. He’s the giver of freedom and peace. Only in Christ one can find rest and deliverance from addiction. AA is good support as long as the higher power in the persons life is Jesus. Let’s keep in mind that the devil doesn’t fight against himself. He is a deceiver and the father of all lies. Jesus loves everyone that’s why He died on the cross. None of us would give our child to be killed for the redemption of anyone because we have a selfish nature and a heart full of fears. To everyone who posted Forgive me if I have offended you. I love you in the love of the Lord and is my heart’s desire to spend eternity in heaven with you all and our Heavenly Father! Jesus loves you and because He lives, you/we can live also! He loves you with an everlasting love and wants to give you everything the devil has taken and more. Jesus wants to restore and transform your life! Excellent Word Pastor!
      • Tori
        A A is cult like and very scary!
        • Bill Cano
          AA as a cult . Before you use that word read some of the free AA pamphlets in the AA club rooms . They explain in simple language what AA is and isn’t , please read them before you make a judgment on us . Before I’m going to join anything i would research it completely . I’ve been a member of AA for 27 years now and i keep on researching AA in AA literature and other non AA literature on line . If you have studied the Book Alcoholic Anonymous ther are to things it says ” Upon therapy for Alcoholic himself we surely have no Monopoly ” the other ” We have no monopoly on God . So if you find another treatment for alcoholism go for it . If you want to find God of your understanding go for it . As in any organization there will be a small group of Zealots so dont let your Fears keep you from getting sober .
    • Bill Cano
      How is AA failing please give an logical assessment and answer ??
  • John Ingmanson
    AA is not failing by any stretch. Just because it didn’t work for some, doesn’t make it a failure. It has by far the highest success rate of any program out there. AA is truly a miracle. I’ve tried many therapists and programs and AA is the only one that worked for me and millions of others.
    • Mark
      Do you have a reference for the success rate claim? Remember *rate* means a ratio, not total number. Since AA is by far the largest program I would believe it has the largest total number of success, but success *rate* means the number of people who have achieved sobriety out of the number of people who tried. One million out of one hundred million would be one percent, even a million is a large number the rate isn’t great. You might have a smaller number – suppose a thousand, but if that is out of a total of say four thousand as an example, that’s 25% compared to the 1%. Without a formal study there is no real statistics to claim, and I have read articles that say it has a poor success rate with a reference to back it up, though I admit I didn’t look it up. It also doesn’t follow that you throw in therapists with AA, that’s apples and oranges. A therapist is one person, it does not involve a fellowship. If another program doesn’t have a fellowship it is also very different, even if both are programs. Also, what if someone in AA sees a therapist at the same time? Someone can claim one or the other is the cause of success, but a simple straight forward explanation might be that both are necessary for that person, and they each make up part of their personal program of recovery. Of course a therapist isn’t even necessarily focusing on the addiction either, but may just be addressing a persons overall psychological health, which is another reason why it’s apples and oranges. The truth is most people are not even aware of fellowships that are not based on the 12 Steps so there is nothing to compare. Even if they are aware of it, are they going to try it? They may attend one or two meetings out of curiosity sake, but that is hardly any basis to judge a program. And why does someone who say AA is failing need to be responded to with a comparison and claim that “we are the best”? I seriously doubt anyone really knows all the programs out there to be able to make an all inclusive statement, and if AA worked for them they have no reason to try anything after that point, even if others they don’t know about may also work. Instead of talking statistics we might look at WHY it didn’t work for some, whether we’re talking about AA or anything else. I think the truth is there may be no interest in those people, the quote about easier and softer way may be read but it doesn’t involve any understanding, or just the simplistic view of strict/vs. lax. But group identity and allegiance also doesn’t mean someone is working a program well. But if we’re interested in how it works then we might understand why it doesn’t work for people and then actually help them, instead of assuming they’re not trying hard enough or some similar generic assumption. Of course that would probably involve a deeper understanding of human nature rather than just an identification similar to team sports.
      • Kat
        The whole anonymity thing makes “success rates” impossible to measure. Plus, “success” is personally defined. Is purely not drinking “success?” Or is it true sobriety. And how is that defined for different people? AA is neither “failing” nor “succeeding” because those are subjective value judgements. I think fellowships help. But you’re right… AA is one of many. I will say, however, that it’s remarkable to me that AA has remained self-sustaining for this many years. That says something positive about it (in my opinion).
      • TH
        Overthinking/over justifying is also one of my problems. I have since learned AA is by attraction not promotion. It’s that simple. An honest desire to stop drinking is all you need. It works. Period.
        • Avery
          Yea ….I’m opiate addict and the only thing …ONLY thing that REALLY matters …is a complete and total desire to quit …when your pain from use is more than your pain for using ….that’s when u quit
      • Scott C, Grateful AA Member
        I do not believe AA has ever declared on a monopoly on alcoholism recovery. It has been around for 84 years. During that time Mark what alternative has come forward that is as successful as Alcoholics Anonymous? The answer is NONE. And to to whine that “nobody gives the others a chance” is absolutely ridiculous. There is a reason! Also, since your all hung up on ratios and statistics, I challenge you to provide any data that shows AA is failing compared to any other alternative. Now, if you come forward with ideas or solutions I’ll listen, but you’re not. Your hating on a program that has helped millions for no apparent reason.
        • Bill Cano
          Pg xxi / 95 = 2 Monopolies.
    • KP
      Wrong, AA has only a 5-10% success rate, close to the statistic of those who just “wake up” the next day and decide to quit drinking. Addiction is NOT a choice, as AA teaches. It also teaches that there is something inherently wrong with an individual who has substance use disorder (not called an “alcoholic” as they do in AA). Check out more research on what happens to your brain when you become addicted. Your mid brain (the primitive, automatic part of the brain) takes over so your prefrontal cortex no longer has the ability to guide you to make choices. Check out HBO’s YouTube video “The Science of Relapse”.
      • Kristoffer
        I can’t imagine how anyone would have the audacity to actually write a comment claiming “a 5-10% success rate” on a worldwide group of anonymous people. It’s ridiculous and obviously completely made up. I started AA in Los Angeles 2 months ago and the program has been a Godsend to me, and I say that somewhat tongue-in-cheek being a non-religious person. AA is amazing in that it clearly wants nothing from you except to offer you help through the fellowship of others who share your struggle. You can use the program completely at no cost to you whatsoever. Many people, I would assume MILLIONS, have found the help that they so desperately need in AA. I believe it is truly one of the last bastions of goodness in this world and I will continue to be a member for life as it, and the many truly wonderful people I have met in the program, has helped me on my road to recovery.
        • Rory
          Sorry if the truth hurts, but AA lies about their success rate. AA is a dangerous cult that separates families and preys on vulnerable addicts. You want to get sober, then help yourself. Rehabs are only good for stealing your money. These programs need to be exposed for they are.
          • Fitjarald
            How do you define success rate? When you talk about alcoholics entering professional services versus AA versus no program, AA tends to have the highest (albeit only slightly) success rate at a 5 year follow up, compared to professional services (next), and no program/services (worst retention/sobriety rate). When you consider the cost to public health, AA being completely volunteer run and self supporting, versus public funding associated with professional programs, AA may have added benefits, placing less of a burden on the public purse. Instead of thinking “Look, 80 – 90% of people who attend at least one AA meeting don’t remain abstinent from alcohol”, consider the opposite. If a volunteer, no cost program, helps even 1 person a year, the long term benefits to the public can be clearly measured. A return to gainful employment, less reliance on public health care, less risk of debilitating disease, less risk of causing accidental death to themselves or others (drunk driving, for example), less costs associated with incarceration. When you look at stats in isolation, sure, no one would call 5 – 10% on a test a success. However, when you consider the broader benefits, a 5 – 10% success rate in addiction services is huge, and offers untold benefits to society as a whole. Different programs will work with different people. I myself use AA because it works for me so far, but I have friends who white knuckle it, others who use addiction counselling, and still others who can consume alcohol normally. No any 2 people will necessarily find the same reasons to become sober, to maintain sobriety, etc. So don’t focus on the people who have failed on one approach versus another, but consider instead the success rates.
          • Bill Cano
            I really fill sorry for you believe that AA lies , seperate family , treatment centers are money makers and you can stay sober by your self . To make a statement like that you really must be full of hate and the base of all hate is Fear . Fear that we may loose something someone or loose are selves to something and we strike out blindly . So if you can put aside your Fear you might find sobriety .
      • TH
        I am missing the point here
  • Linda Jean
    I’m struggling with someone else’s Pink Cloud. He’s just out of detox and after having destroyed (I accept my half of the blame) our relationship, he’s saying all the right things and wants me to get back on his merry go round and woo me and win me back. I still love him but I don’t want to get screwed over for the third time. Does anyone have insight regarding how long it will take for a realistic view of the damage to our relationship? I told him I don’t want to try again but he is determined to win me back. I want to cut off all contact even though I still am in love with him, I want to heal myself and leave this behind. Any advice?
    • Amber
      if he is truly in AA and has admitts and believes he is an an alcoholic, then he needs to not be in this toxic destructive relationship. He would step away so as not to cause you any more pain and take care of his sobriety. This is the Third time??? You know the answer just by your question. If I was a gambler I’d bet that family and friends have told you to stay away from this, what sounds to be a very co-dependent and destructive relationship. Good luck. I really hope you make the right voice.
      • Bill Cano
        Read page 68 and 69 of the Big Book . Also send her to Al-Alanon !
    • Kimberly S
      I suggest looking at why you are still around for a third time with this guy. He is an addict, we love to have our lives filled with enablers and he wants you back as a safety net to him, basically dettting himself up (unconsciously). If he is doing to intentionally, actively trying to manipulate you into coming back then he could be a narcissist. Either way the issue is why are you are still close enough to be contacted by him. If it’s “over” let it be over, you said “the third time”…this means there is a pattern of behavior and that is a huge red flag. My guess is your relate to the patterns and characteristics of a codependency…that is something you can fix, yourself!
    • John
      The addict must do it for himself. If he / she has to get rid of relationships to maintain sobriety, that’s what must be done. It’s not a tool in order to manipulate others. He / she hasn’t seen that your relationship is toxic or at least a problem, and if they were really trying to work the program, the relationship would have been red-flagged and dealt with.
      • Scott C, Grateful AA Member
        * AA is suggestive and it says so right from the beginning in How it Works. * The ONLY requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. * It does not tell you who you may or may not socialize with, and I challenge you to tell me where it does * Common sense is that anybody with alcoholism should stay away from bars and people who abuse alcohol, but it’s NOT a requirement of being a member. * AA teaches a new way of life, is that what you call “brainwashing”? * Alcoholism and drug addition is a disease, not a choice. I absolutely guarantee you that AA has more success than just your approach of willing an addiction away. * AA has had documented success for 84 years and is supported by the majority in the medical profession. Thank god your opinion is not prevalent.
      • Bill Cano AA
        O K Rory ! I’ve been in AA for 27 yrs this time and i have a very open mind about how others find Sobriety . AA states we have No Monopoly on recovery , meaning there are other ways to sobriety even Dr. Bob in 1935 said this . Feel free to find your own way . Now you said AA is a Cult , in Your definition compared to what it says in a dictionary what is a Cult . You have made statements saying AA said this and AA tells you that . I’m sure you Never have studied the Big Book or any other AA literature or pamphlets . No where does it state in AA literature you Must alienate your family or friends for a Higher Power . Where you got that idea i dont know . Also if you refused treatment or refused to attend AA or other 12 step program’s the more power to you I’m happy for you . You state you have been sober for 5 years on self will power good for you not everyone can do this . But i do find disturbing is your Anger at Rehab center’s and 12 step program’s . The root cause of all Anger is Fear , the fear of losing someone or something else . I see in your writings alot of Fear , if i were you i would do some deep soul searching .
    • TH
      Until he has worked all the steps I would stay away and hold your boundary. Have you considered Alanon??
    • Bill Cano
      I’ve been AA for 27yrs and that doesn’t make me relationship expert . But i will share my Experience Strengths and Hope with you . If you want to get well go to Al-Alanon and stick with it . Tell this guy to work on his AA program and then you walk away . Your mental physical and spiritual health must come first so become become Spiritually Selfish .
  • Lori
    Big Book pg. 25 When, therefore, we were approached by those in whom the problem had been solved, there was nothing left for us but to pick up the simple kit of spiritual tools laid at our feet. We have found much of heaven and we been rocketed into a fourth dimension of existence of which we had not even dreamed. The great fact is just this, and nothing less. That we have had deep and effective spiritual experiences which have revolutionized our whole attitude toward life, toward our fellows and towards God’s universe. The central fact of our lives today is the absolute certainty that our Creator has entered into our hearts and lives in a way which is indeed miraculous. He has commenced to accomplish those things for us which we could never do by ourselves. Working the 12 Steps is WORK! …”pink cloud” term is simply another word for DENIAL. Rigorous Honesty cannot coexist with nor will anyone have sustainable sobriety. In my opinion.
  • Paul
    The pink cloud is not a pink cloud at all. it is the joy that God gives us. to keep it and you can, is to live the life God instends for us to live and he gives us the info we need to deal with our trigger points .instead of reaching for the bottle or our drug of choice we go to him or a church friend or prayer ect instead .im here to tell you you can always have that joy it is all up to you i have been clean now 6 years and have friends that have been clean 15 years and more. not that troubles wont come they will but you will know how to cope with them through Christ .but not only that you find your identity and purpose in life. I know lots of you will say whatever or their is no God but he is real and you are real and having joy for the rest of your life is real.surrender to God and put him first in your life and you will see .love y’all and i pray for who ever reads this that your joy last your life here on earth and beyound .
    • Bill Cano AA
      Stop Preaching it doesn’t work in AA Spiritual program of recovery !
  • Tom V grateful G.A. member
    I think Fitjarald had the best point out of the bunch. Whatever works for that person is best option for that singular person wither 12 step, rehab, counseling, or willpower alone. Whatever it takes! I myself have tried 3 of the 4 and have found more success when I take advice from those that have shown success. I spent the better of 10 years trying to fix myself and only accepting half the solution. Thank goodness I finally listening and seeking out opinions from those that have proven success.
  • Bill Cano AA
    Been around AA for 27 years this time and this time I’m back to help those who have a Drinking problem and those who have problems with PTSD ( Military people ) . Is AA for everybody No it isn’t , there are 2 kinds of Monopolies in AA pg xxi and pg 95 look it up . Dr. Bob said back in 1935 that there are other ways to sobriety and i believe that to . To you who Hate 12 step program’s or Rehab center’s great find your way through pure Will Power . If your Atheist or Agnostic the door to AA is wide open , the only requirement for membership is a Honest desire to stop drinking . Again for you who Have Anger issues with 12 step program’s there’s an old saying ” Ye who are with out sin caste the first stone ” .
  • PT
    None of these comments are about pink cloud syndrome… ? Unfortunately, success rates of AA are estimated to be between 5-10 percent, as stated elsewhere in the comments. If you don’t understand how that’s measured or if you don’t believe it’s true, then read up on it. Don’t waste our time with comments about what you find hard to believe.
  • Chelle
    God does not make too hard terms with those who seek him. Its a growing process. AA does not make too hard terms with those that seek the hand of AA. Its a teaching process.