Soda is a drink made with potentially habit-forming ingredients like caffeine and sugar, making it uniquely enjoyable and leading to cravings.

If soda cravings turn into dependency, mental and physical health issues can follow. Soda addiction, or dependence on soda, can lead to unwanted weight gain, type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, dental issues, weakened bones, heart disease, and depression.

This article reviews the symptoms and side effects of soda dependency, as well as how to prevent or stop it.

What is it?

Addiction is a mental and physiological disorder characterized by the continued use of a substance even though it affects you negatively (1).

People can become addicted to a variety of substances and behaviors, including drugs, prescription medications, sex, and smartphone usage.

However, soda addiction doesn’t have an official definition, and there’s currently not enough evidence to suggest that it’s a true disorder.

For the purposes of this article, soda addiction, or dependence on soda, can be defined as drinking excessive amounts of soda without being able to quit or moderate your intake — even if you experience negative effects.

Food addictions — including soda addiction — can have many behaviors in common with drug addiction (2).

Because soda contains several potentially habit-forming substances like caffeine, sodium, and sugar or artificial sweeteners, it’s easier to become dependent on soda than you might think (3, 4, 5, 6).

Symptoms

Symptoms of soda dependency are mostly related to your brain and nervous system function. For instance, symptoms you may experience include:

  • strong cravings
  • a thirst that can only be satisfied by soda
  • a mental preoccupation with drinking soda
  • the inability to moderate your soda intake

Another symptom is experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as a headache, irritability, depressed mood, or grogginess, when you’re unable to have soda.

Side effects

Soda dependency can have several side effects.

Soda is acidic, and over time, it can discolor your teeth and wear out the enamel, thereby weakening your teeth and making you more prone to cavities and other dental issues (7).

If you drink full-sugar soda instead of diet soda, this problem is magnified because sugar feeds the bacteria that form plaque, thus speeding up the process of tooth decay (8).

The phosphoric acid in dark types of soda may also contribute to osteoporosis, a condition characterized by brittle bones (9).

Additionally, heavy intake of both regular and diet soda can cause unwanted weight gain.

Full-sugar soda contains about 100 calories — all from sugar — per 8-ounce (240-mL) serving. This means that if you drink large amounts — for instance, 16 ounces (480 mL) with each meal — you could easily drink an extra 600 calories or more per day (10).

Studies have also linked diet soda intake to weight gain. This may be related to the effects of artificial sweeteners on gut health and cravings for sweet foods and drinks (11, 12).

No matter the cause, heavy sugar intake can cause unwanted weight gain and increase your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease (13, 14).

Drinking sugary soda has also been linked to the development of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in both adults and children (15, 16).

Summary

Soda addiction can be defined as drinking excessive amounts of soda and being unable to quit. It can cause a number of physical health problems, like unwanted weight gain and tooth decay.

How it happens

Dependence on soda can start slowly or quickly. A big determinant of how addiction develops is your individual brain chemistry and your personal and family history of addictive behaviors (17).

Drinking soda — especially caffeinated soda — can cause your brain to release dopamine, also known as the happy hormone (18).

However, the more soda you drink, the less pleasure you get from the dopamine response, which can leave you wanting more. Continuing to drink more and more soda to continue experiencing the rewarding dopamine response can lead to dependence (19).

Because brain chemistry is individual, some people may not get as large of a dopamine response from drinking soda as others, which may affect their susceptibility to soda dependency.

Summary

Soda dependency may develop as a result of the release of dopamine in your brain. However, the development of addiction is individual, and some may be more susceptible than others.

How to prevent it

Because addiction is individual, it’s difficult to provide one-size-fits-all advice about how to prevent soda dependency. That said, some helpful, general guidelines include:

  • Don’t use soda as a reward. This can promote the high dopamine response to the drink that may trigger dependence.
  • Don’t use soda as an emotional crutch if you’re sad, angry, or disappointed. Using soda in this way can promote the development of addiction pathways in your brain.
  • Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated with water, which has no calories, sugar, or additives, can help keep you from reaching for soda.
  • Don’t drink soda every day. Set limits to your soda intake to keep yourself from becoming dependent. For example, you may choose to only drink soda when you go out to a restaurant, or only on the weekends.

Although these steps aren’t guaranteed to prevent soda dependency, they may reduce your risk of it.

Summary

You can prevent soda dependency by not using it as a reward or emotional crutch, drinking plenty of water, and making sure to not drink it daily.

How to stop it

There are two ways to break soda dependency:

  1. Quit cold turkey. With this method, you quit drinking soda all at once. It may result in withdrawal symptoms, but it may also help your body recover faster than simply tapering down.
  2. Taper down your intake until drinking none. To do this, you decrease your soda intake slowly and methodically until you’re able to completely quit. It takes longer, but it can help you avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Which option works best is up to the individual. For example, when people try to quit smoking, cold turkey and tapering down are equally effective (20).

That said, because soda dependency has a large mental component, you should seek professional support if you’re having a hard time quitting soda.

Managing withdrawal

Several negative side effects are associated with soda dependency, and they can manifest themselves when you aren’t able to access any soda or have chosen to quit — especially if you quit cold turkey.

Withdrawal symptoms include irritability, fatigue, headaches, and even feelings of depression (21, 22).

Usually, these withdrawal symptoms are due to quitting caffeine, and they typically last anywhere from 2–9 days (21).

If you’re unable to manage these symptoms when trying to quit, you should seek the support of a healthcare professional.

Soda alternatives

To ensure that you don’t develop a dependence on soda again, keep a variety of drink options that you enjoy and that don’t cause the same dopamine response on hand.

Here are some better drink options that are free of or lower in caffeine, sugar, and artificial sweeteners:

  • water, flavored with fresh fruit or lemon or lime juice
  • unsweetened iced tea
  • hot green, black, or herbal tea
  • kombucha, or fermented tea
  • coffee, hot or iced, preferably decaf
  • sparkling water, preferably unsweetened

These alternatives allow you to add variety to your beverage routine without taking the risk of drinking potentially habit-forming sugary or diet sodas.

Summary

You can quit soda cold turkey or by tapering off. Quitting cold turkey is quicker, but it results in stronger withdrawal symptoms. Tapering off is slower, but it may help you avoid withdrawal.

The bottom line

Soda addiction, or dependence on soda, can have serious effects on your physical health.

Heavy soda intake can lead to weight gain, tooth decay, and potentially heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

You can quit soda cold turkey or by slowly tapering down your intake. Each method has pros and cons, but they’re equally effective.

If you feel that you have a soda dependency, consider seeking the support of a qualified health professional.