"Do you know that feeling," asks soda addict Wouter while we're talking on the phone, "Of being in incredibly hot weather? You've had a long day, and you really just need something to drink?" His voice sounds increasingly passionate. "And then you open that can of soda, and taste the first few gulps, cold and carbonated?"
He continues, as if he's about to have an orgasm: "Mmm. So refreshing. Delicious."
I don't know the feeling Wouter just described. Of course I wouldn't necessarily call myself human until I've had my first cup of coffee, but I've never really liked soda all that much. I used to have it when I was a kid and these days I usually encounter it in mixed drinks. I'll sometimes have some on summer days to quench my thirst, but that's pretty much where my relationship with soda ends.
For some people however, soda is so much more than something to drink when you're thirsty. They sacrifice their dental health, experience excruciating headaches when they drink less of it, or easily consume multiple liters of Coke a day.
Corné (21) from Amsterdam, Political science major
Consumes, on average, about 1.5 liters of Diet Coke a day
When I was about 16 years old, I started replacing meals with Diet Coke. I was overweight and this was the solution my mom and I came up with together. It worked: The caffeine kept me going, even when my stomach was empty. Nowadays, I can't function without it.
I'm starting to notice my teeth are deteriorating. According to my dentist, my enamel is suffering. You can kind of see it, too. I'm considering veneers. Nice looking, but also expensive.
"A slight headache signals my need for a soda. It doesn't matter to me if it's warm or cold."
A slight headache signals my need for a soda. It doesn't matter to me if it's warm or cold. And I like all brands. The cheap kinds contain aspartame. I think I'm addicted to that too.
Of course I could stop drinking Coke. I tried once. I had really bad withdrawal symptoms: Headaches, no energy to go to the gym. I don't think I need professional help. If I really wanted to, I could quit in a week. For now, I'm putting it off.
I will say that I'm pretty responsible about my addiction to Diet Coke. For instance, I try not to drink it right after I brush my teeth, because that's right after I've removed the plaque that protects my teeth from the acidity [of soda]. Usually I can make myself wait. But not always.
Paulo (25) from Ghent, Programmer at a BioTech company
Used to drink about three liters of soda a day, is now down to 1.5 liters
A doctor's visit got me into drinking soda. When I was a little kid, my legs were always hurting. Because of that, my family doctor told me to drink a lot of water. Which I didn't like, so I thought: soda has water, right? It got out of hand. When I was 17, I drank three and sometimes up to four liters of Diet Coke a day.
I wasn't addicted. I'm sure of it. It was mostly a habit to always have a bottle of Coke close by. I used to play a lot of video games, and I was so focused I would drink a liter within 30 minutes without even realizing it. Nobody ever said anything about my excessive soda habit, because I was gaming behind closed doors.
This is probably disgusting to you, but I prefer my soda flat. For a gamer, being able to drink fast is paramount; you're drinking in between games or when you're dead. So I always shook the bottle beforehand. The less carbonation, the better.
These days, I don't drink quite as much soda anymore. But the habit of shaking [the bottle] has stuck around. At home, my girlfriend and I both have our own bottle of soda in the fridge. I don't dare shake her bottle, unless she's away, mine is empty, and I'm sure I will finish it. I only drink carbonated Coke in restaurants, because I don't have a choice.
Kim (22) from Nijmegen, studying abroad in Sweden
Used to drink about three to four cans of Diet Coke a day, currently keeps to one.
One can of Diet Coke still gives me the same feeling of ecstasy I felt when I was addicted. It makes me feel upbeat. Less tired, and definitely truly happy.
We always drank a lot of soda in my family. When stuff started to go wrong at home, I thought: I don't care anymore, I'll have as much soda as I want. I started drinking more and more of it.
"When I had my can of Coke—always cans, preferably cold, and definitely Diet—everything was OK for the moment."
Between ages 17 and 19 I couldn't think of anything else after a long, tiring day at school: I want to go home right now and have a coke. I would have terrible headaches without it. When I had my can of Coke—always cans, preferably cold, and definitely Diet—everything was OK for the moment. The 'Coke feeling' was comforting to me. And important. Having a Coke was a ritual. There were rules attached to it. Not having any before 2 PM was one of those rules.
I would normally not call it an addiction. But now that I'm talking about it, I do realize something was wrong with me. I couldn't live without Coke. When I started living on my own, I drank less of it. I felt more comfortable in my own skin, didn't need the feeling of ecstasy quite as much, and it was too expensive. But if they stopped selling Diet Coke altogether, I would probably still cry.
Wouter (24) from Ghent, studying to be a dentist
Drinks four to six cans of soda a day
I know what you're thinking. It seems completely counterintuitive for an aspiring dentist to drink this much soda. In my defense I can say this: Soda isn't necessarily bad for your teeth. I've never had a cavity or damage to my enamel. How? Partly I got genetically lucky. And I take good care of my teeth. And last but certainly not least: The quality of my saliva is outstanding.
That might sound odd, but saliva contains elements that kill the bacteria living in your mouth. When it comes to preventing cavities, good saliva is the most important thing. I'm not sure if it's possible to examine my own saliva, but purely based on the amount of soda I drink and my lack of cavities, saliva must be my savior.
"You can definitely compare the intense pleasure I get from a cold can [of soda] to having a cigarette."
My side job on the weekend is inflating bouncy houses. After work, there is nothing like a cold can of soda. I like everything: Coke, [sparkling] iced tea, Sprite…
Carbonated drinks give my girlfriend hiccups. She won't have more than a sip of my ice tea, and she drinks it through a straw to protect her teeth—she's also in dental school. She sometimes tells me I drink too much soda.
I definitely show symptoms of addiction. You can definitely compare the intense pleasure I get from a cold can [of soda] to having a cigarette. Of course wanting to smoke is not the same as being thirsty. But regular thirst is also different from my intense craving for soda.