What Does It Mean if You Are Craving Ice?

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On a hot summer day, many people might be tempted to suck or chew on ice. Likewise, others may enjoy popping an ice cube or two in their mouths every once in a while after enjoying a refreshing drink.

However, when a desire for ice becomes stronger than these more typical indulgences, it can become an obsessive, daily habit that can actually interfere with your day-to-day life.

If you are craving ice, you may wonder what this craving means—and if it's healthy or not to suck or chew on ice. The answer is that it all depends on the circumstances, frequency, and intensity of the craving.

In many cases, it may be perfectly healthy. However, in others, it can be a sign of a mental health issue, which may also indicate a more serious underlying condition . Learn more about what it means if you are craving ice, how to know when it's a problem, and how to stop.

Why You're Craving Ice

Craving ice occasionally, particularly in hot weather or if you're thirsty, is nothing to worry about. It's when the craving becomes obsessive, both in terms of the amount of time and energy devoted to thinking about eating ice and actually doing it, that it becomes a cause for concern.

When persistent eating of ice lasts longer than a month, and is clinically impactful on your life, it may be diagnosed as a form of pica, a type of mental health condition where people crave and eat non-nutritive items, such as dirt, hair, paper, ice, or sand.

This condition is called ice pica or pagophagia, particularly when ice is chewed. Craving ice and/or ice-cold drinks is often associated with iron deficiency, with or without anemia. The reason for this association is not completely clear.

However, as iron-deficiency can cause fatigue, some researchers speculate that the urge to eat ice or drink cold beverages may start as a subconscious way to keep alert as the low temperature of ice can provide an energy boost.

Signs of Ice Pica

Ice pica is characterized by an addiction-like compulsion to suck, eat, or chew ice and/or drink ice-cold beverages. The difference between just liking to consume ice and pagophagia is that the latter becomes a prolonged, unrelenting longing rather than a simple preference.

Also, the desire for ice is obsessive and consuming and is not prompted by the purpose of hydration. Additionally, a true ice craving involves a great deal of time thinking about ice as well as the act of chewing or sucking on it.

Some people with ice cravings may want specific types of ice or desire to consume it in specific ways. For example, some people may gravitate toward compulsively drinking ice cold drinks, while others fixate on chewing ice. Sometimes, people eat ice coated in sugary syrups. Others focus on sucking or mouthing the ice like a hard candy until it dissolves. A commonality is the constant (or almost constant) consumption and desire for ice.

A worrisome component of this addiction is that you may be consuming ice in lieu of nutritious food, so it's important to consider how ice pica may impact the rest of your diet and eating habits. Some research has also found a connection between having pagophagia and eating disorders as well.

Another compounding factor of ice craving is that chewing on ice can be detrimental to the teeth. Many people with this condition end up chipping or otherwise damaging their teeth, which can result in severe impacts on your dental health, big dental care bills—and a marred smile.

Causes

As noted above, the exact causes of ice cravings and how the condition develops are mostly unknown but it is associated with several other medical conditions, including:

Studies show that those with iron-deficiency anemia are more likely to also have pagophagia. In fact, one study found 16% of those with low iron also craved ice. In addition to helping to cope with the fatigue that can be caused by lower iron, researchers speculate that eating ice may also help to soothe the swollen tongue that often accompanies anemia.

Another study of blood donors found that 11% of those with iron depletion also had ice pica, compared with 4% of those with sufficient levels of iron.

Research indicates that young women, pregnant women, and blood donors are particularly at risk of developing this condition.

Diagnosis

Ice craving is considered a mental health condition, however, you may have underlying or comorbid health (and/or mental health) conditions that contribute to this disorder making correct diagnosis more complex.

Your primary care physician and/or mental health care provider are a good place to start and can refer you to specialists as needed. It's important to be honest about the frequency and intensity of your ice cravings and behaviors as well as any related issues you may have.

Note that ice pica often goes undiagnosed, primarily because people who crave ice may not share their compulsion with their medical providers, and/or their doctor may not ask about it. Additionally, studies show that many doctors are not even aware of the disorder.

Also, the act of chewing ice may not seem like a big deal if you don't consider the risk of any underlying conditions remaining undetected (for example, untreated iron deficiency), potential medical complications of the behavior, as well as the daily life impact and mental health toll of coping with a constant urge to eat ice.

Treatment for Ice Pica

Ice pica may be treated in a variety of ways depending on what other (if any) underlying conditions are present. Any comorbid or contributing medical issues need to be addressed along with the pagophagia in order for treatment to be successful.

For example, if you have anemia, the iron-deficiency will be treated with iron supplements in conjunction with ice pica. However, note that while it may help, simply treating the related issues may not resolve the ice cravings.

Once the compulsion to chew ice has become habitual, it can be hard to break. For this reason, treating the ice pica specifically is also important and usually will include counseling such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

CBT can help you manage cravings and help find other ways of coping with these urges for ice. Sometimes, ice cravings may be used as stress relief, so CBT can teach healthier methods of stress reduction, such as exercise or mindfulness, which can also help to boost energy levels.

If dental health has been impacted, people with pagophagia may also need to seek treatment from a dentist who can repair their teeth—and provide guidance on ways to prevent further damage.

Coping

If you find yourself often craving ice, getting treatment from a qualified practitioner is your first step. Generally becoming more aware of your condition, acknowledging that your compulsion for ice has become a problem, and taking steps to disconnect from your ice-related habits can begin to help free you from this addiction.

Often, it can be helpful to replace your ice craving with something else (ideally something less detrimental), such as eating an apple or chewing gum, or even a cold, ice-less drink.

Your own awareness of your ice craving can help you manage it as well as look deeper at what underlying issues (in your physical and mental health) may be spurring your urge to consume ice and/or cold beverages.

It may strengthen your resolve to overcome this compulsion to share your condition with loved ones who can support your efforts and provide encouragement and a safe place to talk about how ice craving is impacting you. Finding safe, effective stress relief measures helps, too.

A Word From Verywell

For most people, ice is just a way to cool off their drink, but it can become an obsession for those with ice pica. If you suspect that your cravings for ice veer from an occasional pleasure into a worrisome compulsion that is taking up too much of your time and attention—and potentially chipping your teeth—seek help from your doctor or counselor.

Don't feel embarrassed to admit that you are confronting this problem—it isn't as unusual as you might think, and help is out there.

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6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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