Study shows anxiety medication may blunt empathy - Sovereign Health Group
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02-04-17 Category: Anxiety, Medicine, Treatment

Altruism is defined as the behavior of individuals that compels them to help others at their own expense. Studies have shown that altruism in animals is different from that in humans. Animal altruism has to do with one’s fitness or the ability to reproduce, while human altruism has to do with empathy.

According to an article by the University of Chicago Medical Center, published in Psychology Today, “teens who volunteer are healthier than those who don’t, even 60 years later.”

A study published in the journal of Frontiers in Psychology in June 2016 found a link between an anti-anxiety medication and lack of empathy. Altruism depends on underlying empathy, and it is difficult to be selfless without this trait.

Medications can affect empathy

Extreme anxiety can ruin any day. A person may wake up anxious and go to bed anxious without enjoying a moment of the day. Often, medications are necessary to treat this state of anxiety.

Midazolam, sold under the trade name Versed, is a common benzodiazepine for anxiety that can also be used for general anesthesia, a sleep aid and procedural sedation. Like other benzodiazepines, this one can also be extremely addictive and over time, it might blunt emotions, resulting in a decrease in empathy.

Midazolam was given to rats that were placed in a position to save their fellow species. Another rat group was locked in a cage. The experimental group was given midazolam and placed outside the cage. This group was also given the opportunity to free the rats that were trapped. A control group that was not given medication was also placed outside the cage.

The control group helped release the rats in the cage, but the experimental group did not. The rats that were given midazolam ignored their trapped furry friends. This led the researchers to establish a relationship between midazolam and emotional blunting. Additionally, the anti-anxiety drug did not have any effect on the actual strength of the rats, as they were able to open jars of chocolate perfectly fine.

The research showed that the rats helped others, as it gave them internal satisfaction. However, the drug made them indifferent, and they did not get any “high” from being altruistic. Thus, they did not have the urge to help others.

This can be applied to humans taking anxiety medication, though animals practice altruism for other reasons than humans do. As mentioned earlier, animals practice selflessness for fitness, whereas humans practice this trait for a “feel-good feeling.” A proposal to this theory may reveal that volunteering or giving back may increase the level of happiness in someone who feels anxious or uneasy, or who is contemplating using anti-anxiety medications.

Seeking treatment

Sovereign Health makes sure to keep itself abreast of the latest research about behavioral health to offer evidence-based treatment. Sovereign Health of California provides comprehensive treatment for mental health disorders like anxiety, along with treatment for addiction and co-occurring conditions. To learn more about our treatment programs, contact us through our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a medical writer at Sovereign Health and enjoys writing about evidence-based topic in the cutting-edge world of medicine. She is a physician and author who also teaches, practices medicine in the urgent care setting and contributes to medicine board education. She is an outdoor and dog enthusiast. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at


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