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scientists are developing a pill to cure loneliness

These are duds mate I don't even feel anything lets take another.

by Roisin Lanigan
|
Aug 13 2019, 2:09pm

Still from 'Girl Interrupted'

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.

Loneliness is more than just a shit feeling that plagues you on Sunday nights when you get that post-hangover, pre-working week fear. More and more, we’re beginning to realise that it’s actually a growing health problem, and one that we need to address.

Research paints a grim picture of millennial loneliness. One recent study found that a quarter of millennials don’t have a single friend, making us officially the loneliest generation. Another reported that social isolation is as harmful to our health than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Given that state of affairs, it’s perhaps unsurprising that scientists are now developing a pill which they hope will cure loneliness. Welcome to the future!

Researchers at the University of Chicago tested versions of the pill on volunteers who, although otherwise healthy and young, all reported suffering with chronic loneliness and feelings of isolation. Over the course of a year and a half, groups of volunteers were randomly dosed over an eight week period with either a placebo pill or one containing the hormone pregnenolone, which has been proven to reduce anxiety in socially isolated lab mice.

Scientist Stephanie Cacioppo, the lead researcher on the University of Chicago’s study, hopes the pill will eventually be able to eradicate the fear of rejection which stops lonely people from reaching out to others to forge the connection they so desperately need. The pill, in other words, doesn’t stop the feeling of loneliness. Instead, it enables those struggling with loneliness to overcome their fear of opening up, allowing them to help themselves.

“A lonely mind lies to you all the time,” Stephanie explained in an interview with The Smithsonian. “It’s like when you’re driving in the winter and the visibility is really bad. The idea is that a pill could defrost the windshield for you, and finally you see things as they are, rather than being afraid of everyone. You become more open to listening to others.”

Still, many people are uncomfortable with the implication that our current ‘loneliness epidemic’ can be solved pharmaceutically. It’s easy to draw comparisons to the boom in anti-anxiety medications which, far from addressing the root cause of the problem, have instead fostered a culture with an unhealthy dependence on benzodiazepines, and a worrying culture of Xanax abuse. Stephanie agrees that, by itself, a pill is not the answer to treating loneliness. “We think about this medication as an adjunct therapy to go along with exercises that you can practice every day when you interact with others," she says. “Because the fight with loneliness is a daily fight.”

A pill might seem like a miracle cure to our increasingly isolated culture, but until we tackle the root causes of loneliness and make them a collective priority, it’s more likely to be a temporary sticking plaster than a solution.

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.

Tagged:
Science
mental health
research
loneliness