Are You Addicted to Diet Soda?

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You may not think that diet soda could be a serious addiction. You may not think it can be an addiction at all. But it is, and it could be dangerous.

The Huffington Post quotes a story from Health.com that said the most obvious appeal of diet soda is caffeine. However, there are many caffeine-free diet sodas, and they appear to be just as addictive as the ones that include caffeine.

Psychiatrists say the rituals that surround diet soda and the artificial sweeteners it contains can make some people psychologically, even physically dependent. Also, people think what they are drinking is harmless.

"You think, 'Oh, I can drink another one because I'm not getting more calories,'" said Harold C. Urschel, M.D., an addiction psychiatrist. "Psychologically you're giving yourself permission."

For Steve Bagi, he just swapped addictions.

"It's all tied to smoking," says Bagi, who smoked for 20 years and drank diet soda to mask the aftertaste of cigarettes. He eventually stopped smoking, but kept drinking diet soda.

Trading one addiction for another is a well-known concept in addiction medicine, one that could explain some people's diet soda addiction.

However, other people could develop a diet soda addiction because they associate it with a certain activity or behavior. "You can get into a situation where you crave a diet soda by conditioning yourself," Dr. Urschel says. "[If] you stop for gas and always get a diet soda, the craving will start to come first, before you even pull into the station."

Then there are the physical components. Research suggests that the artificial sweeteners in diet soda may prompt people to drink more because the fake sugar does not satisfy like real stuff.

"Your senses tell you there's something sweet that you're tasting, but your brain tells you, 'Actually, it's not as much of a reward as I expected,'" says Martin P. Paulus, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Diego. "The consequence might be that the brain says, 'Well, I'll have more of this.'"

Certainly a diet soda addiction is not as dangerous as addiction to alcohol, drugs or cigarettes. But studies show that long-term consumption has been linked to an increased risk of low bone mineral density in women, type 2 diabetes, and stroke.

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