Can you be addicted to soda?

If it's hard for you to put down the Diet Coke, you're not alone.

Nick Beare 3 minute read August 16, 2021
soda addiction

Once you get in the habit of drinking soda, it can be really hard to stop. GETTY

My wife loves her pop. Middle of the day, middle of the night — I hear that satisfying crack of a pop tab at all hours. But it’s become a bit much.

“It’s sugar-free, it’s practically good for me!” she’ll say. But a little digging will show you pop, in any form, is most certainly not good for you.

In fact, it can actually be addictive.

Depending on your soda brand of choice, there are several reasons you might be addicted to pop. Many soft drinks are filled with sugar and/or caffeine, two substances evidence suggests are addictive. But even the drinks without either ingredient can stimulate the brain in a way that keeps you coming back for more.

Artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose are found in many different brands of soft drinks. Ingesting them consistently can actually train the brain into a never-ending craving cycle similar to an addiction. That’s because the brain can distinguish between real and artificial sugars, even if our mouths experience a similar sweet taste. So when the brain doesn’t get the dopamine kick it expected from the fake stuff, it tells us to have more of it, creating that craving cycle as we subconsciously chase that sugar fix.

“Artificial sweeteners have positive reinforcing effects — meaning humans will work for it, like for other foods, alcohol, and even drugs of abuse,” said Martin P. Paulus, MD, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Diego in an interview with CNN. “Whenever you have that, there is a potential that a subgroup of people … will have a chance of getting addicted.”

There’s also evidence that those artificial sweeteners can also cause unwanted weight gain by increasing appetite. Heavy sugar intake, meanwhile, is associated with everything from tooth decay, to osteoporosis, to increased risk of diabetes and heart disease. And according to Healthline, when that sugar intake is part of a soda addiction, or dependence on soda, it can lead to all the conditions listed above as well as fatty liver disease and depression.

Soda is incredibly popular among Canadians, which only exacerbates potential problems. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, soda, energy and sports drinks are the top calorie source among all North Americans age 12 to 50. Meanwhile, a 2018 study found 16.6 per cent of Canadians admitted they drink pop every day. Another study projected Canadian per capita soft drink consumption to be about 52.4 liters for the year.

So how do you kick the habit?

Wexner Medical Center at The Ohio State University suggests a lot of soft drink intake is due to eating habits. They suggest pop is often chosen essentially by default as the go-to drink when eating certain meals or at restaurants. So, for people who do that, simply switching to water as a third quencher will cut down on soda and prevent those addictive habits. If switching to water feels like too drastic a change, alternatives such as kombucha, flavoured sparkling water, herbal or fruit teas and coconut water are also healthier options.

Chewing gum, managing stress levels, creating a support system of people to keep you in check and making sure to maintain a healthy diet can all help with curbing cravings.