Is This Common Painkiller Blocking Your Emotions?

Last Update: March 6, 2020

Popping over-the-counter pain medication is supposed to dull headaches and muscle pain—but it turns out it may be doing the same thing to your emotions.

A new study published in Psychological Science on Friday found that acetaminophen dampens every human feeling, from joy to anxiety to boredom.

Most people probably know acetaminophen as the main ingredient in Tylenol, which has been on the market in for nearly 70 years. With more than 35 percent of American adults taking non-prescription painkillers, that’s a lot of lost emotion.

Researchers showed participants photos designed to prompt a response, including images of starving children and images of toddlers playing with cats. Across the board, the participants taking acetaminophen reacted less strongly to both negative and positive stimuli than the group taking a placebo did.

“Rather than just being a pain reliever, acetaminophen can be seen as an all-purpose emotion reliever,” lead author Geoffrey Durso said in a statement.

The study’s authors said they don’t know whether other pain relievers, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, have the same effects. Why? Because no one actually knows how acetaminophen stops pain.

There are two main categories of pain relievers: nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and acetaminophen. Aspirin and ibuprofen are NSAIDs, and treat inflammation as well as pain. This makes them well suited to treating painful conditions related to inflammation, like arthritis. But scientists aren’t exactly sure how acetaminophen blocks pain.

The Food and Drug Administration recommends taking no more than 3,000 milligrams of acetaminophen per day to stay within the safe limit, according to CBS. But if you’re attached to your emotions, you might want to skip it altogether.

Photo credit: Steve Smith via Flickr

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Annalise Mantz

Annalise is a foodie, Brussels sprouts lover, grammar nerd, and political pet aficionado.

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