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This OTC Painkiller May Be Robbing You of Happiness



Millions of Americans take painkillers, many of them on a regular basis. In fact, over 50 million Americans take acetaminophen, which is the active ingredient in Tylenol and many other common painkillers, every single week. But new research on this topic has made an alarming discovery—these painkillers may not just be numbing pain, but all types of emotion in general, including positive emotions and pleasure.

One Popular OTC Pain Medication May Also Dull Emotions

Acetaminophen has been used in the United States for over 70 years, and is the most common drug ingredient used in our country today. The drug has generally been considered to be safe, as a side effect to the drug had never been documented, until now. Although it was known to be effective against not just physical pain, but psychological pain as well, a link had not previously been made to positive emotions. However, a new research study, based on research out of Ohio State University and published in the journal Psychological Science, discovered just such a link.

In their trial, scientists studied a group of 82 college students, who either received 1,000 milligrams of the painkiller or a placebo. After a 60-minute waiting period to allow the drug to take effect, the students were presented with a series of photographs that were intended to trigger certain emotional reactions.

The photographs varied greatly, showing heartwarming photos of children playing with pets, unpleasant photos of crying, malnourished children, and neutral photos, such as a cow in a field. After viewing each photo, the participants were asked to rate the photos themselves between extremely negative or extremely positive on a 10-point scale, and then to gauge the intensity of the emotional reaction that they perceived, again on a 10-point scale. Interestingly, those students who had taken the medication rated the photos less negatively or positively, and also reported less of an emotional reaction. Essentially, regardless of what type of emotion they felt, those students who took the drug felt that emotion to a lesser degree.

Time to rethink your use of painkillers?

The mechanism through which acetaminophen produces this effect remains unclear, and whether or not other types of pain relievers (such as ibuprofen and aspirin) have the same impact remains under investigation. Regardless, as the study’s lead author Geoffrey Durso stated, “this means that using Tylenol or similar products might have broader consequences than previously thought” and that “acetaminophen can be seen as an all-purpose emotion reliever.” More research is required to better understand this relationship, but this research study implies that there could be more negative consequences to taking painkillers that have not yet been discovered.

In light of these findings it may be time to rethink your use of painkillers, especially if you take them on a regular basis. Although the impact of other types of painkillers on emotions remains to be seen, there may be better options to taking medication regardless of the type. Next time you are in pain, considering trying some of these natural painkilling solutions before you turn to medication. Certainly no one wants to deal with chronic pain, but coasting through life in a state of limited emotion is not a good solution either.

Derek is a technical writer and editor with 10 years of experience in the health care field, having first earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Delaware. He is a contributing author on a number of textbooks in the medical field, ran a nuclear cardiology licensing course, and has written a variety of other pieces from online training courses to medical software manuals. Derek pursues his personal interest in health and wellness by playing multiple sports and running marathons. An insatiable traveler, he spent 16 months working and living abroad while traveling through South America, Europe, and Southeast Asia.

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