Can over-the-counter pain meds influence thoughts and emotions?

February 6, 2018, SAGE Publications
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Over-the-counter pain medicine such as Ibuprofen and acetaminophen may influence how people process information, experience hurt feelings, and react to emotionally evocative images, according to recent studies. Examining these findings and how policymakers should respond, a new article is out today in Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, a Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences (FABBS) journal.

Article authors Ratner et al. reviewed previous research suggesting that over-the-counter medicine may influence ':

  • Sensitivity to emotionally painful experiences: Compared to those who took placebos, women who took a dose of ibuprofen reported less hurt from emotionally painful experiences, such as being excluded from a game or writing about a time when they were betrayed. Men showed the opposite pattern.
  • Ability to empathize with the pain of others: Compared to those taking placebos, individuals who took a dose of acetaminophen were less emotionally distressed while reading about a person experiencing physical or and felt less regard for the person.
  • Ability to process information: Compared to those who took placebos, individuals who took a dose of acetaminophen made more errors of omission in a game where they were asked, at various times, either to perform or to not perform a task.
  • Reactions to emotional objects: Individuals who took a dose of acetaminophen rated pleasant and unpleasant photographs less extremely than those who took placebos.
  • Discomfort from parting with possessions: When asked to set a selling price on an object they owned, individuals who took a dose of set prices that were cheaper than the prices set by individuals who took placebos.

"In many ways, the reviewed findings are alarming," wrote Ratner et al. "Consumers assume that when they take an over-the-counter pain medication, it will relieve their physical symptoms, but they do not anticipate broader psychological effects."

The authors also wrote that while the medicine could have new potential for helping people deal with hurt feelings, more research is needed to examine the efficacy and determine if it would have negative effects for people who take it in combination with other medicines or who are depressed and have difficulty feeling pleasure.

While they emphasize that further studies are necessary before policymakers consider new regulations or policies, they recommend for policymakers to begin to think about potential public health risks and benefits in case preliminary studies are confirmed.

Explore further: When you take acetaminophen, you don't feel others' pain as much

More information: "Can Over-the-Counter Pain Medications Influence Our Thoughts and Emotions?," by Ratner et al., in Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

Related Stories

When you take acetaminophen, you don't feel others' pain as much

May 10, 2016
When you take acetaminophen to reduce your pain, you may also be decreasing your empathy for both the physical and social aches that other people experience, a new study suggests.

Your pain reliever may also be diminishing your joy

April 13, 2015
Researchers studying the commonly used pain reliever acetaminophen found it has a previously unknown side effect: It blunts positive emotions.

Ibuprofen relieves women's hurt feelings, not men's

August 1, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—For years, researchers have known that physical pain relievers such as ibuprofen can also help ease emotional pain, but new research suggests that ibuprofen has contrasting effects on men and women: Men ...

Misuse of over-the-counter pain medication is potential health threat

May 30, 2012
A significant number of adults are at risk of unintentionally overdosing on over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication, according to a new study in the US by Dr. Michael Wolf, from Northwestern University in Chicago, and his ...

Is acetaminophen use when pregnant associated with kids' behavioral problems?

August 15, 2016
Using the common pain-relieving medication acetaminophen during pregnancy was associated with increased risk for multiple behavioral problems in children, according to an article published online by JAMA Pediatrics.

Public confused about ingredients in pain relievers

May 3, 2011
People take billions of doses of over-the-counter pain relievers like Tylenol every year, but many do not pay attention to the active ingredients they contain, such as acetaminophen, according to a new Northwestern Medicine ...

Recommended for you

US approves first generic competitor to Mylan's EpiPen

August 16, 2018
US regulators Thursday approved the first generic alternative for the EpiPen, a life-saving emergency allergy medicine, two years after soaring prices for the original version owned by Mylan stoked controversy.

Study: What patients really think about opioid vs non-opioid medications for chronic pain

August 14, 2018
Prescriptions of opioids for chronic pain has increased dramatically since the 1990s in spite of their known harms. Despite a shortage of scientific studies on the long-term effectiveness of opioids such as morphine, oxycodone ...

Doctors nudged by overdose letter prescribe fewer opioids

August 9, 2018
In a novel experiment, doctors got a letter from the medical examiner's office telling them of their patient's fatal overdose. The response: They started prescribing fewer opioids.

Benzodiazepine and related drug prescriptions have increased among young people in Sweden

August 7, 2018
The prevalence rate of prescriptions for benzodiazepines and benzodiazepine-related drugs (BZD)—medications used to treat anxiety, insomnia, epilepsy and other neuropsychiatric conditions—increased by 22% between 2006 ...

Unwise opioids for wisdom teeth: Study shows link to long-term use in teens and young adults

August 7, 2018
Getting wisdom teeth removed may be a rite of passage for many teens and young adults, but the opioid painkiller prescriptions that many of them receive could set them on a path to long-term opioid use, a new study finds.

Behavioral nudges lead to striking drop in prescriptions of potent antipsychotic

August 1, 2018
A study led by Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health has found that letters targeting high prescribers of Seroquel (quetiapine), an antipsychotic with potentially harmful side effects in the elderly, significantly ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.