I struggled with the title of this piece, as I understand the “stigma” that is possibly associated with that word – addiction. Addictions do not only include psychoactive substances that cross the blood-brain barrier, temporarily altering the chemical balance of the brain, such as drugs or alcohol, but may include virtually anything, including such common things as watching TV, sexual activity, internet usage, to seemingly harmless products, such as chocolate or ice cream, because they can also lead to feelings of guilt, shame, hopelessness, despair, failure, rejection, anxiety and/or humiliation. Therefore, addiction may refer to either substance dependence (e.g. drug addiction) or behavioral addiction (e.g. TV addiction).
MediLexicon’s Medical Dictionary defined addiction as a habitual psychological or physiologic dependence on a substance or practice that is beyond voluntary control. People with an addiction do not have control over what they are doing, taking or using and such addiction may reach a point at which it is harmful. My addiction story does not relate to drugs or alcohol – it is about my journey with carbonated soft drinks, especially Coca-Cola and Pepsi products.
For several years, I grew the habit of taking fizzy drinks such as Coke, Fanta, Pepsi and Sprite. It started with having just a bottle every other day, but it eventually got to the level where I was taking about three bottles per day. Sometimes when I was under intense work pressure, I may take up to six bottles, effectively using it to replace my normal lunch meals. I eventually got to a point where I just couldn’t control myself from taking the drinks in a day. Yes, my habit had now become a strong addiction, as I was no longer in control of my choices. With a habit you are in control of your choices, with an addiction you are not in control of your choices. That is the difference!
Addiction to substances or activities are known to sometimes lead to serious problems at home, work, school and socially. It appeared like I was immune to all these impacts. The only impact I could attribute my addition to – was my health and wellness status. I was falling ill on the regular – almost on a weekly basis and my blood pressure was periodically dancing “shaku shaku”. It was very bad!
I didn’t know how I transited from an innocent habit into the addiction status. As I started researching and reading about the challenge I was facing then, I realized that in human psychology, dependency often leads to tolerance – the addicted person needs larger and more regular amounts of whatever they are addicted to in order to receive the same effect. Often, the initial reward is no longer felt, and the addiction continues because withdrawal is so unpleasant. This theoretically explains how I moved from one bottle to several bottles in a day.
Despite the health and wellness issues, stopping the regular intake of the fizzy drinks was never on my options’ list. How can I stop it? It was just not possible. In order to avoid the feeling of guilt and shame, I shifted to Coke Zero and Pepsi Light, the supposed “sugar free” variants of the two popular giants. I even came across that viral interview with a Coca Cola director watch here where Jeremy Paxmn was able to challenge the CocaCola executive until he agreed to the enormous sugar content in CocaCola products, including my Coke-Zero. Again, this was not enough to draw me out of my addiction.
On 1 February 2017, I woke up with a burden and a sense of urgency to commence a 2-weeks fast (not a religious fast) to stay away from fizzy drinks for just two weeks. Maybe, its my mother’s prayers that was working, I decided to comply and stay away from fizzy drinks for two weeks! Yes, I did not die by abstaining from Coke and Pepsi products, but the first three days was not easy. I told my colleagues at work about my fasting, and they were very supportive. The office refrigerator in our section was emptied of all fizzy drinks and replaced with water and fruits. Nobody around me took any carbonated drinks during that period. It is always great to have supportive people around you.
On completing the two weeks plan, I extended it by another two weeks. Then, I extended by another (third) two weeks. Yes, I made it. Then I thought to myself, if I could stay away for six weeks, why not just stop it? Around this time, I also heard about the story of a company that attempted to ship Fanta (another CocaCola product) to the UK and the products were reported to have been rejected as they were not “fit for human consumption”. What?!
Then, I made one of the best decisions of my life and I decided to break the chains of addiction – I decided to stop the intake of any carbonated drinks. It’s been about 18 months and I have kept faith with this self-promise. No going back. Instead of fizzy drinks, I now take fruit drinks that are made directly from fruits, and not even from concentrates. Yes, 100% natural, 0% from concentrates. In fact, one of my business ventures, AGRIKO, now distributes such healthy drinks to supermarkets, restaurants and other foodservice establishments across Lagos, in addition to fruits, vegetables, grains and related direct products from fruits and vegetables.