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April 23, 2015
by Lee Kehoe, MS, LMHC, NCC

Acetaminophen Linked to Numbing Emotions

April 23, 2015 05:55 by Lee Kehoe, MS, LMHC, NCC

A recent study out of Ohio State University found that Acetaminophen may be numbing emotions in addition to physical pain. Acetaminophen is a common compound found in multiple over the counter drugs, the most widely used being Tylenol. There have been numerous studies measuring the effectiveness of acetaminophen on different forms and intensities of pain, but this study is the first to examine the possible emotional impact of acetaminophen. 

The study sample included 82 participants, half of which were given acetaminophen, and the other half were given a placebo. The participants were blind to which group they were in. All 82 participants performed the same study protocol, looking at 40 images often used in research to induce emotional responses in people. These photos used to induce emotion ranged from crying children to endearing pictures of children and animals, in addition to photos deemed neutral in content. The participants rated the pictures on how negative or positive they experienced the image, as well as rated the level of emotional response to each image. 

The findings indicated that those who took acetaminophen often rated the extreme negative or positive images as fairly neutral in emotional response. While those who took the placebo fell in line with past research in rating the extreme images as evoking more intense emotional responses. Researchers concluded that the common and widely used acetaminophen could be associated with some dulling of emotions in those who take this drug to meliorate physical pain (Durso, Luttrell, & Way, 2015).  

Is Dulling Emotions A Good Thing?

It seems as though people could have a range of reactions to this study’s findings. Some may feel that numbing of emotions in certain contexts is advantageous to functioning in those situations. On the other hand, others may feel a stunted emotional response could hinder the ability to fully engage in one’s life. The study findings also raise questions to the long lasting impact of prolonged use of Acetaminophen on emotional regulation. 

As Americans continue to live fast paced productivity driven lives, efficiency can sometimes override the mindful experience of emotion. There are days when a person may be feeling stressed and down due to recent losses or challenges, and these depressive states can seem to hold a person down from functioning in their life. In some people's lives, depression can take control and a self destructive cycle can be created in which a person is held in limbo by sadness. In the extreme cases, psychotropic medication becomes a resource for people who are considerably stuck in depression. However, with this study’s findings, there may be some usefulness to the common acetaminophen to reduce the emotions associated with the more mild “bad” day. The numbing of an expression of negativity might assist people in being able to resist a “bad” day turning into a self perpetuating cycle of sadness and lack of motivation, which can lead to more severe forms of depression. 

On the same coin, there are some implications to this study’s findings that ignite the debate between using medication to function in life and allowing feelings to happen in order to find more natural forms of coping. With every human being having unique contexts and variables that impact their emotions, it is a difficult debate to find middle ground. 

To Feel is To Live?

The findings of this study are combatted by individuals who argue that the numbing of everyday emotions hinders a person’s ability to embrace life in every form. If every time a person were to experience sadness and were able to take the easily accessible Acetaminophen to attempt to numb that sadness, how can that person ever develop his or her own style of coping? Struggle and more negatively associated emotions are often cited as a source of learning and encouragement to be better. If people were to numb even the slightest negative emotions, this would perhaps also hinder their experience of joy and pleasure. The cost of numbing the bad is that the good feelings are also stunted. 

In the world of psychology, the two main factors that signify a person may be experiencing a true mental health issue is if the symptoms disrupt each realm of there life in regard to interpersonal, intrapersonal, professional, and school if applicable, and if these disruptive symptoms persist over a certain period of time. The disruption and persistence of symptoms are used to gauge the need for help to assist the person in relieving and/or managing these symptoms. Helping a person with such disruption and persistence can often involve the use of medications in combination with psychotherapy. This study’s findings could have an impact on a person’s attempt to resolve issues on there own through taking acetaminophen as a way to regulate emotional responses and avoid the disruption and/or persistence of such emotion in everyday life. 

The possibility of these findings influencing self medication through the use of Acetaminophen could cause some further issues in a person’s life. Numbing emotions could in itself disrupt a persons interpersonal relationship and engagement in leisure activities. The disruption of these realms of life could also have serious implications to the person’s quality of life. In addition, to the medical effects of overuse of Acetaminophen in impacting a person’s stomach and digestive system, and overall bodily functions. 

While this study provides useful and interesting findings in the emotional impact of the common Acetaminophen, it has much broader psychological and wellness implications that should be considered before a person decides to utilize Acetaminophen as a way to control his or her emotional response. 


Capetta, A. (2015). Acetaminophen Blunts Both Positive And Negative Emotions. Yahoo Health. Retrieved from

Durso, G. R., Luttrell, A., & Way, B. M. (2015). Over-the-Counter Relief From Pains and Pleasures Alike Acetaminophen Blunts Evaluation Sensitivity to Both Negative and Positive Stimuli. Psychological Science, doi: 0956797615570366.

About the Author

Lee Kehoe Lee Kehoe, MS, LMHC, NCC

I have had the opportunity to train and work with an agency that works within a diverse range of facilities in the Rochester area, engaging with clients from all walks of life. My experiences have provided me a solid foundation for Counseling.

Lee Kehoe can be found at
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