When we think of addiction, we might think of the heroin junkie lying on a dirty mattress with a needle in his arm, or a sweaty rockstar snorting a line of coke right after some mega concert.
We are probably less likely to think about ourselves. But when it comes to hijacking the brain’s reward system, none of us are entirely clean.
In an article from Experience Life entitled “This is Your Body on Soda: the effects of drinking one of America’s most cherished refreshments”, a 12 ounce can of soda takes on an ominous tone. The average soft drink packs about 10 teaspoons of sugar per can. Stack this up against the American Heart Association’s daily guidelines: 6 teaspoons for women and 9 for men.
The effects of pop on your system go something like this: about twenty minutes after you chugged that can, a blood-sugar spike overwhelms your liver’s ability to process the glucose load. What your liver can’t process is converted into fat. And as the article points out, “There’s practically no limit to how much fat your body can store.”
At the thirty-minute mark, the soda’s caffeine has kicked in, dilating your pupils and driving up your blood pressure. The increase in blood pressure sends a signal to your beleaguered liver to release even more sugar into your bloodstream. That aftershock means another little fat storage opportunity for your body.
Forty minutes after the soda washed over your lips, the levels of dopamine in your brain’s nucleus accumbens (essentially, the pleasure center) go wild. Since dopamine is a feel-good chemical, designed to reward beneficial behavior, the result is a kind of ‘high’.
As with a heroin user, your system has no way of knowing it’s been hijacked, that it’s been manipulated into rewarding you for something that is actively hurting you.
Now fifty minutes have passed and you’ve suddenly got the urge to urinate, thanks to the diuretic quality of the caffeine. You’re not just losing fluids, though; soda contains phosphoric acid, which binds to calcium, magnesium, and zinc. So as the article notes, “you’ll soon be flushing those vital nutrients down the toilet.”
One hour after you knocked back the soda, you sugar crash big-time, and then begin to go into withdrawal. You’re irritable, your energy levels flag—and you’re thirsty. Your solution? Another can of soda.
If you’re watching calories and your drink of choice is diet soda, does the above still apply? Yes. In fact, it applies more. Artificial sweeteners in diet soda have an even greater impact on your brain than regular soda.
The net result? You’ve just completed a lap in the addiction cycle. If you do enough of these laps, which is to say you’ve been drinking soda regularly for at least two months, your brain has wired itself for the soda addiction.
Over time, as a natural course for reaching equilibrium and control, your brain’s dopamine levels begin to drop. You are no longer impacted as much by your soda intake. This means you find yourself drinking more and more to get the same high you felt before.
According to government statistics, nearly 23 million Americans are addicted to something, and one in ten is addicted to drugs or alcohol. This is because hustling our evolutionary reward system is not that difficult. Our culture has developed numerous keys that fit the lock in the brain’s nucleus accumbens.
When it comes to addiction, mega concerts and dirty mattresses are optional.