Their link to a long list of poor health consequences such as obesity and diabetes is well established, but studies now show sugary drinks may be addictive. Researchers at the University of California observed signs of addiction in their study of teens in the San Francisco area.
Scientists at UC campuses at Davis and Berkeley worked with a small group of 13-18 year-olds who were regular consumers of sugary drinks in a study focused on “how soda affects teenagers’ health.”
All 25 participants reported normally having at least three sugary drinks per day prior to the study. After just three days without those drinks these teens reported headaches, cravings and other withdrawal symptoms.
The findings of the study were published in the journal Appetite and detailed other symptoms the participants experienced such as decreased motivation to do work, lack of contentment, inability to concentrate and lower ratings of overall wellbeing.
"An abundance of research points to sugary drinks as contributing to a number of chronic diseases,” said Jennifer Falbe, assistant professor at UC Davis and the lead author of the article. “Our findings—that these drinks may have addictive properties—make their ubiquitous availability and advertising to youth even more concerning for public health."
The teens, all of whom were overweight, were instructed to keep to their normal beverage intake for five days before the three-day abstaining period. During those three days they were asked to only drink water or plain milk.
They kept journals tracking their beverage consumption and were in contact with researchers several times during the study period. A small portion had lapses in compliance by drinking flavored milk rather than the plain milk prescribed.
The participants also submitted saliva samples to test for caffeine intake which researchers believed would affect the results. Most were not high caffeine consumers which reduced the likelihood they would be suffering from caffeine withdrawal symptoms.
The study findings were consistent with previous research on the addictive potential for sugar. Research shows young people are the highest consumers of sugary drinks and adolescence is a time of increased susceptibility for addiction. Young people have also experienced a tremendous increase in the rates of obesity over recent decades.