Acetaminophen may diminish emotional pain

Acetaminophen may diminish emotional pain and social rejection

Pain can be either physical or emotional. We may experience an emotional pain if, for example, we learn that a friend didn’t invite us to a holiday party. And, while we are used to taking medication for physical pain, what about for emotional pain? Research now shows that acetaminophen may work for that type of pain as well.

Researchers at the University of Kentucky (USA) have been interested in the relationship between physical and emotional pain for several years. They have studied both types of pain using dynamic brain imaging techniques. In one experiment, they wanted to see if acetaminophen would be effective to minimize social or emotional pain.

Acetaminophen experiment

The researchers took 62 healthy volunteers, and randomly split them into two groups. For three weeks, one group took 1000 milligrams of acetaminophen per day. The other group took a placebo instead (identical pill but no active medication). Every night, the participants filled out a questionnaire that measured how much emotional pain or social rejection they experienced that day.

At the end of the study, the group taking the acetaminophen had a statistically lower rate of feeling social rejection than the group taking the placebo. In a second, similar experiment, the researchers performed functional magnetic resonance scans on people who took acetaminophen after playing a computer game rigged so that the participants would experience social rejection.

Acetaminophen changes brain scan

The results showed that social rejection increased activity in the same parts of the brain (the dorsal anterior cingulate and anterior insula) that are stimulated in physical pain. This demonstrates that our brain may experience physical pain and social pain in a similar way; that social pain really is like a physical pain. And further, the experiment showed that the participants who took acetaminophen had lesser stimulation in these areas of the brain. This again shows that acetaminophen diminishes the pain of social rejection (an emotional pain).

More brain effects

Other researchers have shown that acetaminophen may have slightly different effects on our mental state. A study done in 2015 showed that acetaminophen reduced both emotional highs and lows in a group of experimental subjects. In effect, the medication dampened their emotions making them less excitable, and blander.

Another experiment, published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, showed that people taking acetaminophen were less bothered when they made mistakes while working on various computer tasks.

Decide for yourself whether these medication effects are advantageous or not. In some cases the effect may be helpful, but in other situations, not so much. For example, it might not be good if you are talking to your romantic partner and you seem slightly less interested or emotional.

Note that the mental changes from this medication are not huge, but subtle. You would have to see for yourself the effect. If you try this to diminish social pain, remember that acetaminophen is not a totally harmless medication. The major side effect, from taking too much or for too long, or when combined with alcohol, can be liver damage. This previous post discusses more specifics about dosages and cautions.

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