Painkillers and Rejection

New research published in Current Directions in Psychological Science journal has concluded that painkillers not only help with physical pain but also the emotional pain one feels from rejection.  Naomi Eisenberger, study researcher of the University of California-Los Angeles, said, “Rejection is such a powerful experience for people.  If you ask people to think back about some of their earliest negative experiences, they will often be about rejection, about being picked last for a team or left out of some social group.”

The University of California conducted a three week trial.  Sixty-two people were either given Tylenol or a placebo and were then told to record how they felt every night. The study revealed that the ones who took 1,000mg of Tylenol showed a “significant reduction in hurt feelings” when compared to those taking the placebo. A part of the test also had the participants play a computer game devised to make them feel rejected.  The studies that dealt with patients who were sensitive to pain were more likely to feel rejected after participating in the social exclusion experiment.


After this three week trial on Tylenol was finished, the test was then repeated with some of the group on painkillers and others on a placebo. Again, results showed that those on painkillers had less pain related activity in their brains.


Some of the studies conducted revealed that brain activity in people talking about social rejection and physical pain is very much alike: “We were sitting next to each other and noticed how similar the two brain images looked,“ said Eisenberger.  This could mean that the parts of the brain that process both physical and social pain could be in the same regions.  Researchers were baffled by this occurrence: “It follows in a logical way from the argument that the physical and social pain systems overlap, but it’s still kind of hard to imagine. We take the drug for physical pain; it’s not supposed to work on social pain.”


With this knowledge, one might start to wonder if this scenario is leading to the increased numbers of painkiller addictions. Not only does the drug numb the pain in our body, but it also numbs the emotional pain that occurs in daily life for humans.  Therefore, ending the consumption of a pain medication affects the consumer in more ways than one.  Maybe the physical pain is not what drives the consumer, perhaps it is the relief from the emotions that turns one into an addicted consumer.  Before this revealing research, had you ever considered that more than just physical ailments were being controlled with your pain pill?

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4 Responses to Painkillers and Rejection

  1. Lori Bhada says:

    The human brain is complex and this information certainly bears out that there is still much to learn about the many \”links\” between our physical and emotional well-being.

  2. Jimmy Fox says:

    It has been shown that pain creates Substance P which is implicated in depression so it makes sense that pain killers affect our sense of well being. Besides the addictions pain killers cause many unnecessary deaths every day. We need to treat the pain, not block the signal with pills.

  3. Guy Siverson says:

    At first glance this article may seem to support Tylenol for it deadens the pain people experience in their day to day life. However, if you live a life not coming to grips with rejection minor issues are likely to become major mole hills eventually. Thus there are better ways to deal with rejection than drugs… exercise, nutrition & counseling just to name a few.

  4. Jean Moon says:

    I\’ve learned through reading and watching TV that depression causes more than emotional or mental pain; it also causes physical pain. People who are depressed experience more pain than people who are not depressed; and if a person is depressed the pain is more intense than when that person is not depressed.

    So, it makes sense that if a pill relieves physical pain, it could also help with emotional pain.

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