It Has Cost Me 14 Teeth: Readers On Soft Drink Addiction & How To Beat It

Fizzy, caffeinated drinks are on sale everywhere, and for many people it can become difficult to function without them. Is cold turkey the only way out?

Sirin Kale wrote about her 27-year addiction to fizzy drinks this week. When we asked readers to tell us about their own experiences of soft drink addiction, there was a huge response – here are some of the replies

‘It’s normal for me to drink Diet Coke at the start of a 6am shift’

Working in a Coca-Cola factory means that most Coke brands are freely available to employees. I’m on my feet a lot and work up quite a thirst. The fridges on site are stocked up with everything from Fanta and Sprite to Coke and its many variants. It is totally normal for me to grab a bottle of Diet Coke at the start of a 6am shift. On a hot day I could get through five or six 500ml bottles. Lately, I’ve tried hard to replace Diet Coke with water, but I just find it so boring! Lockdown was a big help: since I’ve been shielding at home I don’t have easy access to such a large supply. Nowadays I’ll get through a couple of two-litre bottles a week. The caffeine in Diet Coke started to badly affect my stress and anxiety levels. I’ve since switched to caffeine-free Diet Coke and feel a lot better. Anonymous, Coca-Cola factory worker, London

‘The shock when I couldn’t buy Ribena was overwhelming’

We always had cheap cordials when I was growing up, as Ribena was so expensive. When I left home, I started treating myself to Ribena. I would get through the large bottles of it within a few days and refused to drink anything else. I don’t think I realised how bad my addiction was until the young people in the youth centre where I work hid it and it caused me so much anxiety – I couldn’t leave the centre until I found it. I no longer drink Ribena – the only way I could stop was to go cold turkey. I travelled to New Zealand and naively thought I’d be able to get it over there – the shock when I couldn’t was overwhelming. I had no choice, I had to drink something else. Nina, youth worker, Bristol

‘I don’t drink tea, coffee or alcohol and Diet Coke gives me a boost’

I started with Tab – the forerunner of Diet Coke, which I then moved on to when it became available. I don’t drink tea, coffee or alcohol and it gives me a boost. I have known I am addicted for as long as I can remember. As far as I can tell, the only side-effect has been the impact on my teeth. However, I have wondered about donating my body to medical science so that a lifetime of Diet Coke addiction can be assessed! I like to say that this addiction is the only thing I have in common with Donald Trump. Occasionally I have managed to go without Diet Coke but can only do it on non-working days as I get a headache and become irritable. It also makes me prone to falling asleep whenever I sit down. But nothing healthier really appeals as a replacement, so it is hard to abstain indefinitely. Anonymous, healthcare worker, London

‘Weaning myself off caffeine has been a very slow process’

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In my early 20s, I could drink six to eight cans of Red Bull a day. When I got pregnant at 30, I stopped; but when my daughter was born she never slept, so I started drinking it again. About five years later, I managed to stop again but instead drank two to three bottles of Lucozade a day. When I started getting palpitations, I decided to switch to Coca-Cola; now my daughter is seven and I just drink one can of Diet Coke a day.

It has been a long journey and a very slow process of weaning myself off caffeine. I don’t drink tea or coffee, so felt I needed to get that pick-me-up from somewhere. At my worst, I would get about three hours sleep a night, drink fizzy drinks all day, then struggle to sleep again at night. Michelle, receptionist, Mansfield

‘I’d often walk miles to a 24-hour supermarket just to buy Pepsi Max’

I remember drinking cans of Coke and Lilt often as a child, but by age 12 I was drinking about a litre of Coke every day. At 14, I switched to Pepsi Max because of tooth decay caused by the sugar. From 16 onwards, I was drinking at least two litres of Pepsi Max a day, with slower tooth erosion but still some decay. Altogether, it has cost me 14 teeth. I realised the amount I was drinking was excessive a long time ago. From the age of 20 onwards, I was drinking two to six litres a day. I’d often get out of bed in the middle of the night due to cravings and walk miles to the nearest 24-hour supermarket just to buy some. The uncomfortable bloating, concerns over possible bone loss, and considerable expense (£6 a day is a lot on low income) finally got me to stop. I quit six months ago after going cold turkey. The cravings and the headaches were strong and every time I had a meal it would trigger the craving. Every time I walked past a drinks chiller I’d be so close to saying sod it, but I knew one sip would inevitably become a can, and then a bottle. Now I no longer crave Pepsi Max at all. Barry, carer, Dundee

‘The craving for a fizzy drink at meal times never leaves me’

I grew up in the 70s when people were not so aware of how bad sugar and fizzy drinks are for one’s health. The tropical weather in the country where I grew up also contributed to consumption of cold drinks, mainly Coke. I got into the habit of drinking a fizzy drink with every meal and, even after moving to England more than 20 years ago, it’s very hard for me to get rid of this habit. There was a time when I drank two cans of Diet Coke a day and believed it to be fine because they don’t contain sugar. For 10 years, I’ve been trying to avoid any sort of fizzy drink, diet or not. Sometimes I succeed and may go a few months replacing them with coconut water, but the craving, especially at meal times, never leaves me. Irene, health professional, London

‘They changed the formula in response to the sugar tax – rendering it far less appealing’

In the moment, you never consider whether an extra can is one too many. I don’t think I realised the amount of Irn-Bru I was drinking was excessive until I stopped. I have now managed to quit altogether. This was due to the drinks maker AG Barr’s response to the sugar tax; the company changed the formula and taste of the drink – rendering it far less appealing and with an odd aftertaste. Now Fanta is my soft drink of choice. Michael, student, Glasgow

‘Diet Coke is the first thing I drink in the morning and the last thing at night’

I have always been a big fan of Diet Coke – when the beast from the east hit and I only had a few cans left in the fridge, I was panicking! While others were desperate to stock up on bread and milk, I went straight for the Diet Coke aisle. I can’t go anywhere without a bottle or a can – if I go somewhere for dinner and they say: ‘We have Diet Pepsi, will that do?’ I think, no, sorry, that won’t do! Nothing tastes the same.

I drink about two litres a day and have tried to quit several times. The only times I have been successful was when I was pregnant. I actually don’t know how to get it out of my life – it’s the first thing I drink in the morning and last thing I drink at night. It makes me anxious if I’m running low. The long-term effects can’t be good and, as a nurse, I should know better. Lindsay Young, nurse, Renfrewshire

‘I was spending lots on coffee, and thought Coke Zero would be a cheaper alternative’

My addiction to Coke Zero developed during my undergraduate studies when I needed a pick-me-up but was spending too much money on coffee. I thought it would be a slightly cheaper alternative. But I ended up drinking more Coke Zero than I ever did coffee, so it was pointless. I have tried cutting down but struggle as I feel groggy if I don’t have any. I have to make sure I don’t drink it too late in the day or I struggle sleeping. Anonymous, Glasgow

“We visited World of Coca-Cola for my birthday and my kitchen is decorated in Coca-Cola colours”

I started drinking full-fat Coke in sixth form because I was too busy with extracurricular responsibilities and lessons to eat properly. The caffeine and sugar kept me going. When I tried to wean myself off it, I switched to Diet Coke. I’ve always hated still or sparkling water and I found that any sweetener other than aspartame tastes horrid – most diet drinks use sucralose. A few years ago I gave up drinking Diet Coke for February as a charity fundraiser, but since then my intake has increased and I drink between six and eight cans a day. I make special trips to buy them in bulk as it works out cheaper. I can tell when a can is getting near its best-before date as the taste changes and I can also tell the difference between Coke and Diet Coke just by smell. We visited World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta for my 29th birthday and my kitchen is decorated in Coca-Cola colours. Is it addictive? I wouldn’t say so. It’s just a preference. The difficulty is retraining your palate to enjoy different flavours, and finding another drink that has the same ease of access. Frances, teacher, Surrey

‘Everything tastes awful after catching Covid – so I’ve been able to quit Dr Pepper’

My family are avid Dr Pepper drinkers so there was always soda in the house but I didn’t really drink a worrying amount until sophomore year of high school, when I started taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses and working 30 hours a week. I did not like coffee or tea, but did not have enough energy to do everything I needed to and felt crushed by pressure. I probably drank an average of six cans a day – and it worked! I graduated top of my class from high school and maintained good grades at the University of Oklahoma while working 35 to 45 hours a week. I’m not healthy, mind you – in particular, my acne is pretty bad and although I have tried to quit numerous times, it was not until about a week ago that I went cold turkey. I was diagnosed with Covid and have been able to utilise the fact that everything tastes awful to implement my own personal Garcia effect (AKA, conditioned taste aversion) on Dr Pepper. Anonymous, student, Oklahoma City

‘When I quit, my skin would change colour very slightly’

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As a child, I was allowed one glass of Coke on Sundays, as a treat. By the time we were teenagers, my brother and I had persuaded our parents to add Coke (or Tab Clear) to our grocery list. At some stage it was decided that calorie-free Diet Coke was the better way to go. Fast forward 20 years and I would drink four to six cans a day. I knew it was excessive because everyone told me so. On a couple of occasions when I quit, my skin would change colour very slightly (I am quite pale but the Coke gave me a bit of a yellow-brown undertone). I quit Diet Coke entirely at the beginning of 2020 but replaced it with Fever Tree tonic, which has sugar in it. So I quit Fever Tree at the beginning of 2021. One month in and I’m now addicted to Red Bull. Fresh drinking water is available so I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Anonymous, data analyst, Dorset

‘I can easily have a Coke with every meal’

I have loved drinking Coke since I was young, probably aged 11. Once I got through university, I realised I was gaining weight so I switched to Coke Zero. I can easily have a Coke with every meal and go through two to three litres a day. I realise it’s not the best, but I don’t drink alcohol, smoke or do drugs, so it feels like a relatively harmless vice.

Before lockdown, I had some success in cutting down – I stopped drinking Coke Zero for breakfast and switched to juice, then forced myself to drink more water during the day but I struggle to eat a full meal with just water to drink. Coke somehow “washes down” certain foods quite nicely. Sebastian Groth, auditor, London

‘I’ve become known as the Monster boy to my friends’

When I was 14 or 15, I spent my lunch money on Coca-Cola but I couldn’t tell you why it became so excessive. I remember there was a deal at the time: two 500ml bottles for £1.70. That would lead me to drink six bottles on some days. Six! I remember once forgetting to bring money for lunch and so I went without my caffeine fix all day, and threw up by the time I got home. That’s when I knew it was out of control. Yet Coke was just a gateway to Monster – I drank up to three cans a day at university. I had a bit of a ritual: I would have a Monster by my bed waiting for me, then I would wake up, drink it in the shower, get the train to uni and drink another one before I went to the library. At the beginning of 2020, I vowed to give it up – then the pandemic hit and buying cans of Monster became a weekly ritual.
I still drink Monster today, although a lot less. I’ll have one can a day, sometimes two if I have a lot to do. Advertisement

I’ve become known as the Monster boy to my friends. Someone got me a Monster beanie for Secret Santa and, for my lockdown birthday, my friends all drank cans of Monster with me over Zoom to celebrate. I know that people are really disgusted by my habit. I do not like to drink it in public. I feel like I’ll be judged. William, London

‘I’ve probably spent more than £1,200 on Lucozade’

Doing my food shop one day, I just picked up Pink Lucozade Zero – and became instantly hooked. It was on Valentine’s Day last year that I realised how excessive my habit had become: my boyfriend bought me nine bottles (one litre each), and in the space of about two days I had finished them. My addiction was also highlighted during the first lockdown as I used my daily exercise to walk to the shop to pick up a litre bottle of Lucozade. Even if it was pouring with rain, I’d still go. I spent about £400 a year on my addiction, meaning that in total I’ve probably spent more than £1,200 on Lucozade. Change came during the summer when, sitting at the table with my boyfriend’s family, they all had glasses of water and I had a one-litre bottle of Lucozade – it was embarrassing. Over the past two months, I’ve managed to quit completely. Kayley Cornelius, student, Manchester

By: Guardian Readers

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