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Do You Have a Soda Addiction? How to Tell & Stop

Overly fond of Coca Cola or addicted to diet soda? Learn the causes of regular or diet coke addiction and steps to overcome it.

Do You Have a Soda Addiction? How to Tell & Stop


It's no surprise health experts recommend cutting back on soda and all sugary beverages. According to the CDC, limiting soda can help with weight regulation and help lower the risk for diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. 

Additionally, while switching to diet soda cuts out the sugar, diet soda consumption can also be a concern. Research suggests long-term, high intake of diet soda may have some potential drawbacks.

Cutting back on soda -whether regular or diet- can be easier said than done. No doubt about it: the sweet and fizzy taste of soda is designed to be craveable and addicting. 

Wondering what to do to stop the draw of a soda addiction? Here is what you need to know once and for all to kick a soda addiction.

What Causes Soda Addiction?

Merriam-Webster defines addiction as "a strong and harmful need to regularly have something." A soda addiction can feel like a strong and powerful need to consume soda and may feel like an intense craving mentally or even physically. 

Why is soda so addicting? A few reasons include the combination of sweetness and caffeine content. Both sugar and caffeine can be strongly addictive and ignite the brain's reward system.

A review on sugar addiction suggests sugar can induce rewards and cravings in the brain that are comparable in magnitude to those induced by addictive drugs. As with drugs, over time, the "reward" center in the brain can need larger and larger amounts of soda to feel the fulfillment of satisfaction in the brain which can fuel an addiction.

According to a 2019 CNN article, the addition of carbonation with the sweet taste in soda can make it all the more addicting. Carbonation can actually cut back on the sweetness of soda, which oddly enough can make it even more addicting. Case in point: When soda loses its carbonation, it is more intensely sweet and less appealing.

Another factor that may impact a soda addiction is genetics, as an addiction to anything can have a genetic component. However, a 2019 study found genetics can have a role in addiction to sweet beverages, like soda. Up to 20 to 30 percent of the population is estimated to have the genetic predisposition to be prone to crave sweet drinks.

Soda Addiction Symptoms

Soda addiction is much more than occasionally drinking or craving a soda. Wondering if you or someone you know is addicted to soda? Some signs of soda addiction can include the following:

• Drinking a can of soda or more per day.
• Soda intake and desire to drink soda continues to grow over time.
• Drinking soda at certain times of the day is part of your routine or daily habit. 
• Skipping out on soda is not an option. When this does happen, some soda withdrawal symptoms can occur like a headache or feelings of anxiety.
• You may have tried to cut back on soda before, but it did not work.

Why Diet Sodas Can Be Addicting

Although regular soda is shamed for its high sugar and calorie content, reaching for a diet soda instead may not actually be harmless either. In fact, people who consistently drink diet soda can still suffer from weight gain and obesity while increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. 

One theory suggests diet soda has a "health halo" effect, or believing there are no calories or sugar from diet soda. Therefore, it may inadvertently cause a justification for a splurge or larger portion sizes of other foods.

Even though diet soda does not have the sugar to fuel an addiction, artificial sweeteners may also be addicting. When artificial sweeteners in diet soda are used in place of “regular” sugar to fill a sweet craving, the brain does not receive the reward signal like real sugar. Therefore, this may still send the signal to keep eating/drinking to satisfy the desire.

Diet sodas still contain the caffeine and carbonation that regular soda does which can also trigger addicting properties in addition to the artificial sweetness.

4 Steps to Kick Your Soda Addiction

If you have tried to cut back on soda before and failed, do not beat yourself up. Try again and focus on these 4 steps to kick the "bad" habit whether for regular or diet soda. Remember, breaking any addiction is hard and needs consistency.

1. Take Baby Steps

While impression, a clean-cut from soda or going “cold turkey” is not necessarily required. Small changes ultimately lead to bigger changes and, well, a change is a change. 

If four sodas have spots in the daily diet, start with just excluding one. After about a week with three sodas per day, cut out another one and repeat until completely eliminated. The gradual reduction will create a more effortless transition to a diet soda-free life.

2. Go for Natural Replacements

It may be tempting to turn to diet soda from regular soda when trying to cut an addiction. However, if you are feeling stuck in a diet soda addiction, what should you turn to?

Diet soda, or regular soda for that matter, is sought out for its caffeinated effects. A soda can help power through a groggy morning or an afternoon slump. However, black coffee and herbal teas also contain caffeine without many, or if any, artificial additives. 

When replacing a soda with another caffeinated beverage, remember to check the nutrition label or not add heaps of sugar as some coffees and teas are filled with syrups and creams. Keep away from regular or diet energy drinks, as these can fuel the same addiction as with sodas.

Along with the sweet flavor being desired, so is the fizziness soda has to offer. Fortunately, seltzer water is a satisfying fizzy drink without the added calories. Kombucha can also provide a fizzy kick and a dose of probiotics!

3. Drink More Water Over the Soda Upgrade

Oftentimes, people think they are getting "a bang for their buck" when upgrading a medium soft drink to a large or jumbo size. In reality, the biggest bang for the buck is drinking free water. 

In general, America is privileged to have a huge, clean supply of water. Flavoring the water with fruits or calorie-free flavor enhancers can help satisfy the sweet tooth without additional calories.

Instead of being sucked into the "$0.99 jumbo soft drink" at the local convenience store, resort to a large, free cup of water. Water also provides so many health benefits to the body, benefits diet soda cannot provide.

4. Vary Your Routine

Drinking soda can become a part of a daily routine the way coffee has the ability to start people's days. If a soda fills a time slot, start to utilize that time in a different way. Find pleasure in taking a walk or jog, listening to music, or reading a book to fill the soda void.

Food and drinks, soda included, can also provide comfort and a coping mechanism for stress. For some, sodas fill the void after stressful days dealing with school, family, work, and other day-to-day taxing contributors. 

Instead of stopping at the gas station for a soda, make a pit-stop at the gym. Even a 20-minute walk has the potential to provide the "feel good" mood exercise offers. Other beneficial stress-reduction techniques include listening to favorite music, relaxing in a warm bath, and practicing meditation.

Soda Addiction Recap

Like any addiction, a soda addiction can be hard to kick. Sodas are unfortunately designed to have people coming back for more with the combination of sweetness, fizz, and caffeine. Additionally, there may even be a genetic component to being addicted to craving sweet drinks.

While the deck may seem stacked against breaking a soda addiction, the good news is it can be possible to stop. The keys to breaking it are to start small, turn to water and other natural alternatives, and break habit patterns associated with drinking soda.

References:

Ahmed SH, Guillem K, Vandaele Y. Sugar addiction: pushing the drug-sugar analogy to the limit. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2013 Jul;16(4):434-9. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e328361c8b8. PMID: 23719144.

Drayer L. Why soda is so addictive – and some good alternative beverages. Published October 28, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/28/health/soda-soft-drinks-addictive-drayer-food-wellness/index.html.

Stephens N. Can you be addicted to soda? Ohio State Medical Center. Published March 2, 2020. https://wexnermedical.osu.edu/blog/addicted-to-soda.

Sarah Asay's Photo
Written By Sarah Asay, RDN. Published on December 30, 2015. Updated on June 20, 2022.

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