Over-the-Counter Pain Medications Influence Emotions – (STUDY)

Written by Dr. Ahmed Zayed

In order to deal with pain, the first thing we do is to take an over-the-counter painkiller. These medications do a great job in alleviating pain without having to schedule an appointment and see your doctor.

What’s more, many doctors recommend over-the-counter pills to their patients if the pain isn’t severe enough for prescription drugs.

Constant research on these drugs is necessary in order to learn as much as possible about all their effects. The more recent study found that over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications could influence emotions. Keep reading to find out more.

OTC Painkillers and Emotions/Thoughts

A team of researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara led by Professor Kyle Ratner carried out a review of studies[1] about the use of painkillers such as ibuprofen and paracetamol.

They found that women who take these painkillers report less heartache from emotionally painful experiences compared to ladies who were taking a placebo. Interestingly, results weren’t same for men. It appears that over-the-counter painkillers heighten their emotions.

The study, which was branded alarming by scientists, found that over-the-counter painkillers have a tremendous potential to influence how we process information, experience hurtful feelings, and react to emotionally evocative and unbearable images.

In many scenarios intake of pain relief medications can make you less sensitive and emotional. Why? While more research is needed to confirm these findings and explore the influence of painkillers on our emotions, scientists explain these pills block both physical discomfort and feelings to the brain.

False Sense of Security

The discovery that over-the-counter painkillers can lessen your emotions and information processing is a major source of concern. After all, we take these pills whenever we experience pains and aches so it raises more questions about other effects we could experience.

Considering these pills don’t require a prescription and they come at affordable prices we get a false sense of security that tells us nothing bad can happen.

Ratner says that findings from his study are alarming in many ways. After all, we take painkillers hoping they will alleviate pain only, but they do so much more than that. Their ability to block physical discomfort is also a potential mechanism that leads to decreased emotional sensitivity.

The research team also found[2] that intake of painkillers influences one’s ability to empathize with the pain of other people, which didn’t happen in the placebo group.

For instance, people who took paracetamol experienced lower emotional distress when they were reading about a person who also experienced pain. Not only that, they felt less sympathy for that person.

Besides disrupted emotion processing, over-the-counter pills like paracetamol affect the way you process information too. For example, persons who took paracetamol made more errors of omission while playing some game than individuals who were in the placebo group.

Pain in the Painkiller

Painkillers Affect Reactions to Emotional Objects

Results of the study, published in the Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, revealed that over-the-counter painkillers negatively affect a person’s reaction to emotional subjects.

Subjects who were taking paracetamol rated unpleasant and pleasant photographs in a less extreme manner than their counterparts from the placebo group.

Both positive and negative scenarios on photographs were perceived less intense among people who took paracetamol.

This means the ability to emotionally comprehend something dampens. Of course, more studies are needed to find out more about the true extent of painkillers and their influence on our emotions and thoughts.

Read Next : How To Deal With The Emotional Vampires?


According to study from the University of California, Santa Barbara intake of over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen and paracetamol dampens our emotions, thoughts, and information processing.

These pills block physical discomfort and feelings to the brain, which could explain why our ability to sympathize with others also decreases.

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Contributor : Dr. Ahmed Zayed ()

This Article Has Been Published on February 8, 2018 and Last Modified on December 12, 2018

Dr. Ahmed Zayed Helmy holds a baccalaureate of Medicine and Surgery. He has completed his degree in 2011 at the University of Alexandria, Egypt. Dr. Ahmed believes in providing knowledgeable information to readers. Other than his passion for writing, currently he is working as a Plastic surgeon and is doing his masters at Ain Shams University. You can connect with him on Linkedin.

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