Column: Kicking the habit proved painful for soda junkie

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 5, 2001

I was a drug addict.

Sunday, August 05, 2001

I was a drug addict.

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I didn’t use needles or pipes or anything like that; my drugs came from an aluminum can or a plastic bottle.

Most people don’t think of Mr. Pibb or Mello Yello as a drug, but underneath those colorful, stylish cans lie a monster.

It started when I was young. My parents would tote home a 12-pack of Coke or Mountain Dew on a Friday night, and by Saturday afternoon my mom would be shouting, &uot;Why are there only two cans of pop left!&uot; My brother and I would cringe.

They tried to hide the pop, which worked to an extent. But we usually found a way to get some. I guess we could have had a drink of water instead, but what kid wants to drink water when he can have pop?

My teen years were a new golden age of pop drinking. Suddenly, I had a car, a job and a wallet full of expendable cash. I could get my own pop whenever I felt like it. You may as well have hooked the Mountain Dew IV directly into my veins.

Then, college. When I lived on campus, I had one of those little dorm fridges, which I packed full of cans. And the cafeteria had free-flowing fountain pop and bottomless refills. Joy of Cola, indeed.

It continued after I graduated and got married. Not much changed – until two weeks ago.

I had gotten into the habit of picking up those big &uot;cube&uot; 24 packs of Pepsi One (I decided somewhere along the way that I should at least go diet). They didn’t last long, though; I’d have two or three cans before deadline each morning, then one at lunch, one in the afternoon, and a couple in the evening. It adds up fast.

Then, two weekends ago, I ran out of pop. This time, I didn’t have any cash to buy more. We were busy around the house, and we never made a trip to the store. It was hot, so I drank ice water instead. The weekend passed, and I realized I had just gone a couple days without soda.

If you pay attention, you know about the bad things pop can bring. It’s murder on the teeth. The caffeine makes you jittery. The sugar and carbohydrates aren’t good for your weight. It’s so bad that we even heard of bills in the legislature to ban pop sales in schools.

We’ve even heard news reports that lots of pop can lead to obesity in young people. Too much of the stuff just isn’t good for you.

So, I figured, why stop at two days? Why not keep it going? I had always thought the caffeine was keeping me going, but I was going just fine without it. I was actually feeling better than when I was chugging thick, dark-brown cola out of a wide-mouthed can.

But caffeine, truly, is a drug. It wasn’t going to let me get away that easily.

By Monday or Tuesday, I started getting headaches. Constantly. I would beat them back with ibuprofen for a few hours, but they’d always creep back into my melon.

By the start of last week, I was popping enough ibuprofen to numb an elephant. If I didn’t, the headaches came back even worse. It was time to see Mr. Doctor.

Mr. Doctor told me that caffeine withdrawal can give you headaches for three weeks. But because of my pain-killer use, the real problem seemed to be what he called &uot;rebound headaches&uot; – I was getting so used to having ibuprofen that my head screamed for it when I didn’t take any. He said I should stop taking the pain killers. He gave me medicine for rebound headaches.

The rest of the day was excruciating. By a happy coincidence, that day was the hottest one last week.

My head throbbed. It hurt when I moved. It killed when I sneezed. I had the bottle of rebound-headache medicine, but I wasn’t supposed to take it until bedtime.

And after I took some, it didn’t kick in right away. I lay, trying to sleep, in the stifling heat. I couldn’t find the right way to lay so my head wouldn’t hurt. Finally, by 3 a.m., I fell asleep.

The medicine seems to have started working now; I’m ibuprofen free and my head feels OK.

And after it all, I’m still liberated from caffeine. I’ve learned I can get up in the morning and be alert without it. I can have a meal at a restaurant and just order water to drink. It’s saving me money – and I’ve got a lot less recycling to haul outside.

Yeah, it seems pop-free is the way to go. As long as you can handle a little withdrawal.


Dylan Belden is the Tribune’s managing editor. His column appears Sundays.