Back hurt? Pop a yellow pill. Don't want kids yet? Try a pink one. Heartbroken? There's something for you too ... aspirin! That's right, it's not just for your headache anymore. Over-the-counter pain relieving drugs are now being touted as magical pills that can cure almost anything that ails ya—even psychological pain.
According to a study published in the journal Psychological Science, acetaminophen, which is of course meant to alleviate physical pain, can also "reduce the pain of social rejection." That's because the two types of pain overlap in the brain, relying on some of the same behavioral and neural mechanisms.
What I want to know: Whatever happened to making like Bridget Jones and calling up some friends to have a bitchfest over a pint of Ben & Jerry's?
Psh-aw! There's no need for that kind of old-fashioned coping mechanism, say researchers from the University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences. Popping an aspirin would be just as or possibly more effective.
Researchers conducted two experiments: One in which 62 healthy folks took 1,000 mg of either acetaminophen or a placebo. Every evening, the subjects reported how much they experienced social pain. "Hurt feelings" and social pain decreased over time in the pill poppers, while there was no such change observed in those on a placebo.
In the second experiment, meant to figure out what was going on brain-wise ... 25 healthy people took 2,000 mg daily of acetaminophen (err, that seems like a lot, no?) or a placebo. After three weeks, the subjects played a computer game rigged to create feelings of social rejection. (Wow, sounds like a real blast.) The researchers hooked up fMRIs (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machines to the participants and found that acetaminophen reduced neural responses to social rejection in brain regions associated with the distress of social pain and the affective component of physical pain. Translation: Painkillers blunt reaction to rejection.
Sweet. Now, I guess you could make the case that we could be handing out Tylenol like candy to tweens and teens, so they don't have to suffer the pain and anguish of being acne-riddled, dodgeball targets, or "different" in any way. Companies should hand over a couple bottles of the stuff when they lay employees off. Divorce lawyers could dole it out, too ... pretty soon we'll all be "pain-free."
But, uhh, wait one second. Those silly researchers do all that work, and then they conclude, "Our findings do not constitute a call for widespread use of acetaminophen to cope with all types of personal problems."
Oh, whew! Gee, thanks for clarifying. Because not only has long-term use of acetaminophen been linked to liver damage, but maybe, just maybe, we should be coping with personal problems by actually confronting, learning, and growing from them—sans "neural interference."
Do you agree?
Image via David Goehring/Flickr