Are Painkillers Preventing Us from Feeling Other’s Pain?

“The way we feel has a profound effect on the way we see the world and interact with others. It’s a further reminder that even over the counter medications are still medications.” said Dr. Daniel Pio when we asked him about the results of a study done at Ohio State University about the effects of acetaminophen on our ability to be empathetic to other people’s pain.

Over the counter painkillers like tylenol are about as common a drugstore purchase as gum and acetaminophen is the most common drug ingredient in the US, present in over 600 types of medication.

Dr. Pio reminds us that these medications, however common and benign, are still medications! Not to be popped like candy for every ache and pain because as we are now beginning to understand  “the same brain regions are activated when one feels pain and when one empathizes with the pain of others” said Dr. Joy Chudzynski, a clinical psychologist at UCLA.

Dr. Baldwin Way, senior author of the study at Ohio State.
Dr. Baldwin Way, senior author of the study at Ohio State.

“These findings suggest other people’s pain doesn’t seem as big of a deal to you when you’ve taken acetaminophen,” said Dominik Mischkowski, co-author of the study and a former Ph.D. student at Ohio State, now at the National Institutes of Health.

Each week about 52 million people in the US use a medicine containing acetaminophen.

So what does this mean for all the millions that consume it regularly?

“Empathy is important. If you are having an argument with your spouse and you just took acetaminophen, this research suggests you might be less understanding of what you did to hurt your spouse’s feelings.” said Dr. Baldwin Way the senior author of the study.

When we asked Dr. Joy Chudzynski about a world without empathy she made an important point, “aren’t we already there? It seems there can be much judgment and unkindness in the world, and even in ordinary day-to-day interactions with others.”

Are painkillers like tylenol to accept some of the blame for this apathetic climate we live in? Well it’s hard to point the finger at one thing in particular but “studies like these, can really help to bring awareness to these matters and in turn help people to become more aware of their effect on and their way of relating to others.”

The research at Ohio State is continuing with more study being done on acetaminophen and another common pain killer, ibuprofen. Stay tuned!

Read more: 3 Ways Your Mentality Effects Your Physical Well-Being