Why is Diet Soda Addictive?

by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM Published on , Last Updated on

An addiction to diet soda may seem silly to most people, many of whom have been tricked into thinking that calorie-free soda is the healthier choice compared to traditional carbonated beverages. Since it’s calorie free and sugar free, most people who are dieting will choose diet soda as a beverage of choice at meals and snacks. Due to its highly-addictive nature, diet soda is often consumed in excess, often replacing pure water.

The most common brands of diet soda include these ingredients:

  • Carbonated water
  • Caramel color
  • Aspartame
  • Phosphoric acid
  • Potassium citrate
  • Natural flavors
  • Citric acid
  • Caffeine

This is a toxic cocktail of chemicals that are known to cause changes in brain chemistry, cellular communication, and basic metabolism. Aspartame is one of the biggest health culprits in diet soda, not to mention a host of other processed foods. It is probably the key ingredient associated with addiction.

7 Minute Video of Dr. Group Explaining
Why Diet Soda is Addicting and What You Can Do About It.

Why is Diet Soda Addictive?

Aspartame, the chemical sweetener used to replace high fructose corn syrup in diet soda, activates the reward centers in your brain. [1] The trouble is, because aspartame doesn’t provide any calories (energy), the body misses out and makes it crave more. It’s your body’s way of basically “reaching out” for fuel when it’s missed the calories from the first hit of diet soda consumption. Diet soda is trying to trick the body, but the body rebels and makes you want more and more to satisfy those reward centers in the brain and provide energy for cells.

Brain chemistry is also tampered with when aspartame is ingested. Aspartame is comprised of two amino acids and a methyl ester, and these compounds can affect the dopamine system in the brain linked to positive reinforcement. [2] Alcohol and drugs can cause similar effects, but at different levels of severity. The caffeine in diet soda–not to mention in regular soda, coffee, and energy drinks–is considered a drug, and an addictive one at that. Caffeine is a psychostimulant, and, when combined with aspartame’s dopamine effects, increases addictive behavior. [3]

Withdrawal Symptoms

One of the classic ways to prove whether or not you’re addicted to diet soda is to abstain from the product for one to seven days and see if you experience withdrawal symptoms. First and foremost, caffeine deprivation after a prolonged period of consumption will bring about headaches, irritability, and mood disturbances. Psychological issues may also result as a side effect of eliminating aspartame, as the sweetener can impair the transport of tryptophan which helps produce serotonin. [4]

How to Fight Diet Soda Addiction

The only way to be free from diet soda is to make a deliberate choice not to buy it the next time you go to the grocery store. Don’t order it at restaurants, and pass if a friend offers it to you at your next social engagement. Going cold turkey is the only way for most people; however, extreme cases may need appropriate psychological counseling and behavioral therapy to fight addiction. If you can’t go cold turkey, just start reducing one can or glass of diet soda per day, replacing it with pure water.

You can try replacing diet soda with coffee or tea, but you will still have the caffeine issue. While these beverages are certainly healthy (without sweetener), you may wish to try herbal tea initially. Rooibos tea is a fantastic antioxidant-rich herbal tea that is also free from caffeine. I also advise looking at your food labels and abstain from purchasing anything that has aspartame anywhere in the ingredients list.

Have you experienced a diet soda addiction? We’d love to hear how you combated it! Please contribute your thoughts, opinions, or questions in the comments!

References (4)
  1. Oyama Y, Sakai H, Arata T, et al. Cytotoxic effects of methanol, formaldehyde, and formate on dissociated rat thymocytes: a possibility of aspartame toxicity. Cell Biol Toxicol. 2002;18(1):43:50.
  2. Marc-Antoine Crocq, MD. Alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and mental disorders. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2003 Jun;5(2): 175-185.
  3. Marcello Solinas, Sergi Ferre, Zhi-Bing You, et al. Caffeine Induces Dopamine and Glutamate Release in the Shell of the Nucleus Accumbens. The Journal of Neuroscience, August 1, 2002, 22(15):6321-6324.
  4. P Humphries, E Pretorius and H Naude. Direct and indirect cellular effects of aspartame on the brain. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. (2008) 62, 451-462; doi: 10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602866.

†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Global Healing Center does not dispense medical advice, prescribe, or diagnose illness. The views and nutritional advice expressed by Global Healing Center are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medical service. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.

  • Sally

    I haven’t drank soda for years, but I’m battling a coffee addiction. Do you recommend any herbs or supplements that can help to quell the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal?

  • DoubtingSteven

    Yeah, says the industry group for the companies peddling this stuff. What’s the yearly membership dues to be an ABA member?

  • Ceaser

    The video has a lot of good material, but its a little long and boring.

  • Lisa Weber

    Like just about everything in life, I enjoy diet soda in moderation. Just like coffee. Just like agave. Just like tuna. Just like dessert. I do know alot of people who go cold turkey and completely avoid tempting treats. I absolutely respect that But for me, if I avoided everything that was “bad for me” I’d be eating steamed celery and nothing else.

    Balanced diet, plenty of fruits and vegetables and healthy things, smaller amounts of the fun stuff, regular exercise. I’m in the best shape of my life, I have lots of energy, and I’m much happier.

  • Derrick

    Maybe next time they can add a car chase scene to help you pay attention.

  • jr

    The poisons in diet soda are not ok in any amount

  • Mista M Allen


  • Mista M Allen

    Aspartame was discovered in 1965 by James M. Schlatter, a chemist working for G.D. Searle & Company. Schlatter had synthesized aspartame as an intermediate step in generating a tetrapeptide of the hormone gastrin, for use in assessing an anti-ulcer drug candidate.[19] He accidentally discovered its sweet taste when he licked his finger, which had become contaminated with aspartame, to lift up a piece of paper.[8][20][21]

  • Andrea Fuentes

    I’m trying to kick diet soda now. I’m on day 4 and the mood swings and headaches are there for sure. Still having some caffeine in the form of tea and coffee though, but limited amounts. I’m finding that drinking sparkling mineral water helps, maybe the carbonation?

  • harvi

    I recently watched a tv program saying the same thing about diet soda. And how it effects people with pcos even worse. I have pcos and am always craving sugary foods and I always always craved diet soda I used to drink 2 litres a day… The program on TV stated that the only sweeter not to effect you is the stevia/truvia ones. So that’s what I use in my food/drinks now. And I’ve replaced the diet soda with Coca Cola life… and it’s been 2 weeks since I’ve made these changes first few days was hard but now I don’t feel the need for any coke at all… I’ve noticed a change in my skin It feels so dry that’s because I’m probably dehydrated as I’m not drinking enough water so now my nxt step is to try and drink at least 4 pints of water a day…

  • Sue Reade

    I was addicted to diet coke for years. It was impossible for me to give up even though I could get my consumption down to 1 – 1 1/2 cans a day. I don’t know what the actual addiction is attributed to but God finally delivered me through prayer and I have not touched a diet coke ever since. It has been 15 or so years since I have had even a sip. I have no cravings for it anymore.

  • liberals manges le merde

    Reminds me of how the tobacco industry used their own “findings” as proof.

  • eric daily

    I quit diet sodas and sodas about 3 years ago. I quit nicotine 13 years ago. I occasionally have a regular Coca-Cola about twice a month. My wife is an addict. She drinks about a gallon of diet coke a day. Possibly going through $75+ a month in it. She drinks it all day long, and rarely anything else. I am beyond concerned. I have stopped saying anything about it. Nothing I say or do helps. I’m at a loss as to know what to do. I believe that it will take a doctor to seriously convenience her to quit.

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