Common painkillers might ease the pain of heartbreak

Common painkillers might ease the pain of heartbreak

SexDecember 14, 2017 By Lindsey Kline

Heartbreak hurts. Literally.

After some asshole slices your heart apart like a ripe tomato, your brain thinks you’re physically hurt, and you feel physical pain.

Physical pain and emotional pain seem to intertwine in many ways we don’t yet understand. That’s why Nathan DeWall, professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky, began a series of experiments to determine if the remedies we use to treat physical pain can soothe psychological pain, too.

Astoundingly, DeWall and colleagues found that acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, reduced the hurt associated with rejection.

The area of your brain that lights up when you're physically hurt is the same area that lights up when you suffer “social rejection.”

DeWall’s study supports this idea. According to brain imaging, the pain pills dimmed the activity in these overlapping areas of the mind, reducing participants’ ability to process social pain.

In one study, participants were excluded from a game. "People knew they were getting left out [of the game], it just didn't bother them as much," DeWall tells NPR.

In another part of the study, to test the effects of the pain pills, participants were given either Tylenol or a placebo pill for three weeks. None of the participants knew which one they were given. They carried on with their daily lives in the cruel world. Then, every night, they completed a Hurt Feelings Scale to measure the emotional pain they experienced throughout the day. Participants on pain meds ended up reporting fewer instances of social pain.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard that painkillers can diminish our sensitive side. Previous studies have shown that people taking acetaminophen experience reduced empathy, too.  

It seems the painkiller numbs your social senses, making you less concerned about what other people think and feel. That might make you look like an emotionally-detached asshole. On the other hand, it might help with the soul-crushing pain of a break-up.

Of course, no one will recommend choking down a bottle of Tylenol every time some punk plays with your heart. Your mildly dulled pain won’t make the liver failure worthwhile. Try swiping through 6,000 Tinder profiles and having some filthy rebound sex, instead.