Why is Soda Addictive?

In my first blog on the dangers of soda consumption, I focused on the many health benefits from cutting soda out of our regular consumption. When reviewing the advantages of saying no to soda, like better heart and brain health, stronger immune systems and decreasing the risk of diabetes and certain types of cancers, it would seem like a no-brainer to kiss all sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) goodbye!

But with nearly HALF of all Americans drinking soda every day – a staggering 7.5 billion gallons annually[i] – we face an uphill battle against a habit that is fueled by the addictive powers of added sugar. And worse yet, the most popular sodas also contain the equally addictive drug (that’s right, I said "drug") that we all know is caffeine.

iStock-500903136 soda.jpgCaffeine’s addictive qualities are perhaps common knowledge, but most Americans do not realize that the added sugars found in sodas are dangerously enslaving. 

We focused on sugar’s addictive powers in our Winning the War on Sugar blog series, but there are some key points that we need to re-emphasize in the hopes of raising greater awareness.

Sugar has been proven scientifically to be more addictive than most recreational drugs.

The sugar industry utilizes very similar refinement processes that transform poppies into heroin and coca into cocaine, processes whose end products affect people’s bodies and brains. One study showed that rats chose sugar over cocaine because the "sweet" reward was greater, the "high" more pleasurable.

An addictive drug is even more powerful when it is easily accessible.

In addition to sodas, added sugar is found in nearly 75% of consumer packaged goods. Prior to the mid-19th century, added sugars were virtually non-existent in the human diet. Today, it seems that the produce section in the supermarket, the more discriminating farmers’ markets and the garden in your backyard are the only sanctuaries where we can find food without processed sugars in their makeup.[ii]

Add to this dilemma the prevalence of caffeinated sodas, and there is a double whammy for consumers trying to shake these addictive beverages. 

The two leading caffeinated soda brands control 72% of the total U.S. carbonated soda market, with their caffeinated products being their most dominant sellers.[iii]

These sodas have high levels of caffeine that are absorbed through your small intestine and into your bloodstream when you drink them. Because it is both water and fat soluble, caffeine can flow to your brain and affect your brain cells directly. It blocks the adenosine molecules that are intended to slow down your body’s nerve cell activity.[iv]

This stimulates an overproduction of adrenaline that we mistake for energy. When the caffeine effect wears off, we experience exhaustion, thus feeling a need for more caffeine, as well as bad feelings of withdrawal and even headaches when we can’t get more.
Now add to this the sweet-high craving from the nearly 40 grams of added sugar in each can, and you wonder why it’s legal for children and teenagers to buy it!

There is some good news on the horizon in this specific battle in the war against added sugars. 

The two leading soda brands experienced steep volume declines in 2016, including sales dips of 9.2% and 4.3% in their caffeinated diet brands.[v] Their full-calorie sodas also dropped significantly. This is due in large part to increases in consumption of bottled water.

Kicking the one-two punch of soda addiction is attainable.

One strategy is to quit gradually by switching to diet soda, caffeine-free soda, or both if they are available. Even decreasing your intake by one soda per day is an effective start.
Going cold turkey is a painful option, but still a viable one nonetheless. According to health guru Kevin Michael Geary, addressing both the physiological dependence and the psychological addiction all at once is an "enlightening kind of hurt" as long as you prepare for it.[vi]

Another approach is what self-proclaimed "fitness freak" Maria Hart calls "changing your habit loop."[vii] According to this soda addiction survivor, every habit has an unconscious cycle of three steps – cue, routine and reward. For example, if you get tired or stressed at 3:00 pm every afternoon, you may get up from your desk and grab a soda from the office vending machine. Instead of walking to the vending machine for a pick-me-up, take a walk outside. Grab fresh fruit or vegetables and take it with you on your afternoon walk! Change your habit and improve your health.

iStock-544443200 little girl shopping healthy.jpgIn closing, the best place to start is at home by cutting out sodas from the shopping list and weaning your children off regular soda consumption. Make your home a safe haven and let your children be your motivator for changing the "habit loop." If you don’t have children, think of your friends and family members who are at risk from the harmful effects of soda addiction. Start a culture of change with those closest to you and let’s make massive soda consumption a distant memory.

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[i] https://www.healthambition.com/what-is-in-soda-why-so-addictive/ 

[ii] https://blog.ccsmed.com/winning-the-war-on-sugar-understanding-the-addictive-power-of-sugar

[iii] http://www.nasdaq.com/article/coke-vs-pepsi-by-the-numbers-cm337909

[iv] https://www.healthambition.com/what-is-in-soda-why-so-addictive/

[v] http://fortune.com/2017/04/19/coca-cola-pepsi-dr-pepper-soda-water/   

[vi] https://rebootedbody.com/break-soda-habit/

[vii] https://greatist.com/connect/attempts-quit-diet-soda

Sean Browne

Sean Browne

Former Chief Revenue Officer, CCS Medical

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