Acetaminophen reduces social pain
Branco Weiss Alumnus George Slavich has discovered that the common over-the-counter drug acetaminophen, which is frequently used for treating physical pain symptoms, also reduces peoples’ experience of social pain and rejection in the context of a 21-day double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Individuals who were more forgiving experienced the greatest benefit. Indeed, participants’ who were randomly assigned to take acetaminophen who were highly forgiving experienced a nearly 20% reduction in social pain over the three-week study period.
“Socially painful experiences like relationship break-ups are extremely common” says Slavich, who is an associate professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA and Director of the Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research in Los Angeles, California. “In this study, we tried to understand whether we could reduce the intensity of such social pain experiences by administering a safe medication that is commonly used for treating physical pain.”
How might this work? Well, recent research has suggested that physical pain (e.g., caused by physical injury) and social pain (e.g., caused by social rejection) are influenced by some of the same neural and biological systems. Consequently, it is possible that acetaminophen, which is commonly used to alleviate physical pain through neurochemical pathways, may have social pain-relieving effects.
Slavich cautions against using acetaminophen for treating relationship break-ups… at least for now. “We are not at the point where doctors can administer acetaminophen to help people get through a divorce,” says Slavich. “However, these results provide very important novel clues into the potential biological basis of social pain, which is one of the most common and impactful of all human experiences.”
Read the article on Annals of Behavioral Medicine