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Woman Forced To End 40-Year Diet Coke Addiction After Impacts To Her Health

Poppy Bilderbeck

| Last updated 

Woman Details Brutal Diet Coke AddictionPixabay/Pxfuel

A woman has detailed her brutal Diet Coke addiction, which left the drink ‘kind of leading’ her life. 

Abby Ellin’s addiction to the fizzy drink started in 1982 and when she first discovered it, she drank ‘at least three to four 12-ounce cans’ a day.


This continued ‘nearly every day for the next four decades’, no matter where the woman was.

Coke Cans (PA Images)PA Images

The extent of the Ellin’s addiction resulted in her avoiding specific airlines that only served Pepsi, buying out ‘an entire store’s inventory in New Delhi’ because of fearing a shortage of Diet Coke in the ‘rest of the country’.

Writing in The New York Times, she said how she ‘stashed cans […] like an 18-year-old with a bong, except she was in her 40s’ when visiting her parents.


Ellin did not drink coffee, so while she tried at different points in her life to stop drinking the soft drink, she couldn’t kick the morning habit. She said ‘Kombucha, La Croix, Zevia? Nothing satisfied my cravings. And let’s be clear: Caffeine-free soda is pointless.’

coke can (Pixabay)Pixabay

However, after nearly 40 years of Ellin battling with her addiction to the fizzy drink, she started feeling physically unwell.

She detailed how the left side of her abdomen ‘had been throbbing for months’, but doctors could not work out what was wrong.


Ellin underwent CT scans, ultrasounds and a colonoscopy, none of which showed anything. She says how, in the last few years, her ‘beloved brew’ began to taste what she imagined a ‘Tide pod would’ taste like.

She started to question whether there was a link to the physical symptoms she was experiencing and the new taste of the drink to her. The new ‘malignant aftertaste’ left her imagining the fizzy drink’s chemicals ‘targeting’ her insides.

In late June, Ellin drank what would be her last Diet Coke.

She had been on her second can that day, when suddenly ‘pains shot across’ her stomach. After 39 years of being addicted to the drink, she was finally done.


She questioned: ‘Why did it take so long? Was I truly physically dependent, or was it simply a bad habit?’

Can top (Pixabay)Pixabay

In her research into whether soft drinks are actually considered addictive, Ellin discovered that Diet Coke is not mentioned in the list of all ‘addictions’ published in the DSM-5 diagnostic manual of mental disorders, by the American Psychiatric Association. Artificial sweeteners were not mentioned on the list either.

However, in a study in 2007, 94% of rats who were forced to choose between saccharin and cocaine chose the sweetener, ‘even if they had showed signs of dependence on the cocaine’.


Caffeine use disorder however, falls under the section of ‘requiring further research’.

Ellin was not alone in her addiction to Diet Coke however, and found refuge in a Facebook group called Diet Soda Coke Drinkers Who WANT to Quit!

An Irish unemployed furniture mover, Steven Walsh, said it was ‘easier’ to quit smoking, which he did 17 years ago, than give up Diet Coke.

Ellin detailed how Walsh went ‘cold turkey two weeks ago’ but has to take aspirin for terrible headaches and that he goes on long walks and reads books to try to distract from feeling ‘irritable and tired’.

An associate professor in the department of psychology at the University of Michigan and the director of the school’s Food and Addiction Science and Treatment Lab, Ashley Gearhardt, says these are classic signs of addiction.

She said: 

People lose control over it. They consume it even though they know they should stop. They’re having compulsive behaviors. They go through withdrawal when it gets removed.

If Diet Coke – or any diet soda – was a new pharmaceutical product and we were testing it for whether people are getting addicted to it, we would be very concerned.

An assistant professor at the University of Maryland and author of The Hunger Fix, Pamela Peeke notes how large food companies spend billions to try to make sure that people crave more junk food.

However, Coca-Cola views addiction differently. A spokesperson for the brand, Daphne Dickerson, said certain foods or drinks can ‘trigger what scientists call ‘reward centers’ in the brain, but so can other things like music or laughter’.

Subsequently, she said: ‘Regularly consuming food and beverages that taste good and that you enjoy is not the same as being addicted to them.’

Diet fizzy drinks have, however, been linked to strokes and dementia, diabetes and metabolic syndrome and tooth decay. Similarly to what Ellin herself experienced, the drinks can also cause abdominal cramps. While issues such as diarrhoea, hallucinations, headaches, joint pain and nausea can also occur.

Although doctors have not been able to conclude whether it is the aspartame or saccharin or something else in the drink which causes these issues. Ellin also expressed feeling ‘glom’ at how the Food and Drug Administration had given artificial sweeteners, a ‘thumbs up’.

Ellin, at the time of writing the article about her journey, was on day 41 of overcoming her addiction. She said how she ‘stopped suddenly’ but would hardly call herself an ‘overnight success’. However, she is planning to continue and is ‘quite pleased’ with herself for kicking a ‘lifelong habit’. She concludes: ‘If I can do this, I can do anything. Even if it takes 40 years’.

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Topics: Life, Addiction, Now


The New York Times
  1. The New York Times

    I Was Powerless Over Diet Coke

Poppy Bilderbeck
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