How Medication Affects Empaths and Sensitive People

How Medication Affects Empaths and Sensitive People

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How medication affects empaths and sensitive people is more intense than you may think.  Since many empaths experience chronic sensory overload, anxiety or depression, conventional physicians often send them to psychiatrists for medication.

In “The Empath’s Survival Guide” I discuss empaths, their bodies, and health. It’s important for sensitive people to listen to the wisdom of their bodies. Many physicians go straight to antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications when treating empaths, but, in general, initially I recommend not using them with such sensitive souls. Sometimes, my patients just need to be kinder to themselves and make certain adjustments which make their lives easier.

For instance, Jan came to me experiencing intense anxiety when driving the Los Angeles freeways. The multiple lanes of cars and huge trucks whizzing by in both directions overwhelmed her and made her light-headed. Some empaths, including myself, have this aversion to freeways. The massive amount of traffic going at high speeds, and erratic, upset drivers are just too much stimulation for some of us to process. I haven’t driven the freeways for years.

Although Jan had practiced deep breathing exercises before getting in the car, and took shorter freeway trips to get used to driving, these strategies were insufficient. Her physician had suggested anti-anxiety medications, but she wasn’t comfortable taking them. I presented Jan with a simple alternative. Instead of continuing to make herself crazy trying to “get over” her driving anxiety, she could give herself permission to avoid freeways when possible and take some wonderful side streets across the city, as I do. Jan felt tremendous relief with this solution. She simply allowed for more travel time to her meetings. I also urged Jan to stop pressuring herself to “be like other people,” a mistake many sensitive people make. You often have special needs that must be respected–and these needs are okay. You’re not failing or copping out by finding ways to be kind to yourself. The softer, easier solution to a problem can be a merciful way for you to resolve anxiety without having to turn to medication.

How Medication Affects Empaths and Sensitive People:

If empaths have been chronically depleted by trauma or stress, they may require medication for depression and anxiety to balance their biochemistry. I recommend prescribing these mainly for the short term. Interestingly, I’ve observed that many empaths require a much lower dose than other people to get a positive effect. For instance, a sliver of an antidepressant can work wonders for highly sensitive patients. A mainstream physician might write this off as a “placebo response.” I disagree.  How medication affects empaths and sensitive people is more intense than you may think.  Empaths are just more sensitive to everything, including medications. We often can’t tolerate the usual doses that conventional medicine deems effective.

Always ask yourself, “What is my body’s response to medication?” It doesn’t matter if you’re the only one who ever had a side effect, if you experience something, it IS real. I get so tired of doctors telling me, “Well, you’re the only one to experience ____so it must not be real!” As an empath, I’ve learned to trust my body above all. I hope you do too.

In addition, I’m also fascinated by new research about how pain medications can inhibit empathy. Ohio State University researchers recently found that when participants who took Tylenol (Acetaminophen) learned about the mishaps of others, they experienced less dismay than those who didn’t get the drug. So, if you have a conflict with a family member and you had just taken Tylenol, this research suggests that you might be less compassionate. Knowing that Tylenol decreases empathy is important since 52 million Americans take a substance containing it every week!

It is important to know how medication affects empaths and sensitive people. If you’re an empath who needs medication, I suggest working with an integrative healthcare practitioner who understands subtle energy so you can find the best dosage for your body. Be sure to share with your doctor how your body responds to the dose of medication you are given so you can regulate it if necessary. Most important, speak up if you are uncomfortable. Remember, the point of taking any medication or taking part in any therapeutic intervention is to focus on your healing.

(Adapted from The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People by Judith Orloff MD.)

Judith Orloff, MD is a New York Times bestselling author with the upcoming book The Genius of Empathy: Practical Skills to Heal Yourself, Your Relationships and the World (Foreword by the Dalai Lama). She has also written The Empath’s Survival Guide and Thriving as an Empath, which offers daily self-care tools for sensitive people. She integrates the pearls of conventional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition, empathy, energy medicine, and spirituality. Dr. Orloff specializes in treating empaths and highly sensitive people in her private practice and online internationally. Her work has been featured on The Today Show, CNN, Oprah Magazine, the New York Times and USA Today. Dr. Orloff has spoken at Google-LA, TEDx U.S. and TEDx Asia. More information about Dr. Orloff’s Empathy Training Programs for businesses, The Empath Survival Guide Online Course and speaking schedule at

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34 thoughts on “How Medication Affects Empaths and Sensitive People

  1. Too much to reply too and with everything I have read that you have written since my dr. has brought to my attention after almost 30 years of seeing me that I was an empath, it’s like WOW!!! Finally, after all these years of questioning why and what so much meant, I’m blown away with so many answers which also have put me on a roller coaster of emotions… Books on my life I am now reading, thank you…

  2. I love this article! I struggled w/depression and anxiety meds for nearly 10 years before I called it quits and found natural alternatives (meditation, sunlight, good food, exercise) that make me feel better – not 100% BUT still easier than the side effects of all those meds, now I have half an issue instead of a double issue.. Anyway, from time to time I look for uppers, they help me organize, focus – clean w/o overthinking etc. My problem has always been low motivation, low energy-avoidance. A friend gave me 4 (10mg) Ritalin which i took 1/2 at a time – 2x a day to get through a busy weekend. The lows I felt the week after were terrible, it took me on an emotional roller coaster – just a mess, unclear, heavy ride – it was def mind and body overload. Never again, not worth it cant believe children take those.

  3. I’m desperate but skeptical about psychiatric meds. I want to try them but maybe too much of a quick fix when I should change my life first and learn my lessons that way.

  4. Sometimes I feel like my medications numb me. It’s only when I don’t take them, that my dreams are very fluid and detailed. But if I don’t take them, I become very depressed and destructive.

    1. I couldn’t relate more, the tiny dosage of an stimulant neutralizer makes me catatonic and gain lots of weight. It’s like my body completely shuts down. Like a computer with a major virus, and the irony is I got the virus by trying to organize and clean up my hard drive.

  5. I have had to take pain medication for a rare spinal cord disease that causes debilitating pain. I have been through a lot of traumatic experiences that I wish on no one, and gave me cptsd. I’m doing therapy for the cptsd but there is no cure for the other. Before I got this dreadful disease I had all of the ‘extra senses’ that empaths have. Because of the medication for cptsd and my back pain it’s hard to pull my senses back together. But I’m working on it, especially getting rid of all psychiatric medications. I have them for an as needed basis only. I’m slowly getting to the point where I can feel spirits and sometimes they make themselves known; I work in a nursing home and was taking a resident back to their room when a wheelchair moved out and back to where it was and there was no one else around it. I asked the resident if they had seen it too and the reply was yes. I have also had different things happen in my apartment which I know is a spirit trying to channel through. But I’ve not acquired the telepathy or feelings of others as strong as I used too. I’m reading every book dr. Orloff has put out, Hoping to gain back more of my gift. Your books are amazing and help so much. Thank you for helping others regain, realize their potential, and going forward to help others from what you have wrote. I am a loner, I don’t fit in anywhere, but fit in everywhere if that makes sense. I adapt to my surroundings. I know the medication can distort my feelings but a lot of the time I hear, it’s just like I’ve known you all my life. I remember dreams I’ve had since I was 3 and there is a purpose for the ones I do remember. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for not making me feel like I’m alone.

    1. I am a empath suffering from spinal disease as well.I have cervical scoliosis. I feel like someone constantly squeezing my neck.I get test results 1/30/20 .Thet believe I have alkonizing Splontitis in the family of Rheumatoid Arthritis of the Spine or Hypermoble Ed’s (Ehler Danlos syndrome).I am a empath and have learn to release all the energy I absorb so I have constant anxiety causing me to have frequent flairs. I am in constant pain.Im adhd so I constantly move cause when I stop I just feel pain
      I’m allergic to most pain meds well being a empath I’m sensitive to almost and chemical. I just wanted you to know you are not alone in this battle.Before going to Dule spinal clinic and a rheumatologist the people closest to me thought the constant pain I was experiencing was all in my head( even though u can see swelling and knots).I have felt so alone in this battle to figure out how to stop the pain which has been a constant for almost 10 years now.

  6. This article reminded me of myself. When I was 17-18 years old, I was seeing a therapist and psychiatrist for Generalized anxiety disorder. Long story short, the psychiatrist prescribed me medication but it wasn’t working. I never took it. He gave me low dose, a little more high dose.. but never really worked for me. You know what really worked? Praying and going to church. Now, to this day, I love having God as my first one. I found out I enjoy reading and learning. Back then, my therapist told me to pray and she gave me some strategies. She also shared the same beliefs as me ( Catholic) so she told me she prayed for me. I am very happy I have found about the Empath trait. I realized that in the next years to come, more things are getting resolved for humanity. I am 23 years old right now.

  7. Thank you Dr. Orloff. This is so very true for me. I am so very sensitive to all types of drugs and I know that the doctors think that it is all in my head. I have side effects from a variety of drugs. I have a cabinet full of vitamins, and homeopathic remedies which help me tremendously. I also have learn to watch the food I eat as well.
    I don’t feel so alone and so “weird”. Like other I feel validated.

  8. As an empath, I’ve found out the hard way that medications can have side effects. I opted to receive acupuncture and massage therapy for chronic pain with no side effects. Over the long term, along with a plant based lifestyle, I have reduced the degreee to which I experience pain daily.

  9. Thanks for this article, I was looking for description for empath . because I read a article about toxic people and it said if you me a empath turn and run! I have identified as being empath a long time back , but to not always take care of myself. Thank you.

  10. Hi. I have done pretty well for many years avoiding unnecessary medications. I just don’t believe in drugs – or especially the industry.

    However I have recently found “Lyme disease” to be the core of many issues I’ve tried to take responsibility for thru diet… “Lyme” is a much bigger beast! And I’m struggling with the many antibiotics that have to be tried. I’m frustrated with the minimal effects we’re achieving. It also turns out I’ve had it for 18 years, so “resistance” seems to be an issue as well. I was pleased to see this email and try to consider how to factor this into my doctor’s choices.

    Thank you so much for this added perspective to consider!! 🙂

    1. I’ve had LYME too since I was 12. Be sure to check out Jay Davidson’s you tube channel and Chronic Lyme Summit for strategies to cope and conquer LYME. Best to you!

  11. As usual Judith, you are so wise and thorough on every subject. Thank you for this article.

  12. HI Dr orloff ….I hope you are well….I wanted to know how much you charge for a session …..I’m a empath healer….have multiple traumas that I’m having therapy for and healing read all your books which have been helpful but my body still suffers from taking other people’s stresses and illnesses I have fibromalgiya and a 9yr old daughter to take care of..this is effecting my life emmensly I need guidance please is it possible to arrange and appointment …my email .many thanks

  13. Thank-you. This article validated my own life experiences as an empath. It is wonderful this information is being shared to help others. I am a sensitive Cancer water sign. In addition, I am an advanced channeler of Light Beings. I receive their messages telepathically~through clairaudence. I share their channeled messages of inspiration in my social media and my first e-book. In order to do this work, it requires a certain level of sensitivity and the ability to pick up on higher non-physical frequencies. I have heard telepathically I am very sensitive. Because of this, I am sensitive to bright light and loud sounds. I carry air plugs in my purse because of my heightened ability th hear. 8 weeks ago I developed an unusual inflammatory skin condition and I heard telepathically, it was because I am sensitive. I also heard to protect, insulate and shield my energy field every day. This is mandatory for me. The last 6 months I have naturally been cocooning more in my house since I work out of the house and limiting my time socially. I feel this is an intuitive instinct to protect myself energetically. I’m honoring it. I listen to my body and tune into my energy to take care of myself. I stopped thinking I was weird and accepted how I am and live within that. I know I am not the only one like this and there are many like me in this generation who have born with such sensitivities as part of the evolving human race. I teach classes on this now to help others.

  14. I have taken Ativan (Lorazepam) for 20 years but my current doctor suggested that it may not be helping my PTSD any more and she would like to see who I am without it. I agreed. The VA protocol suggests changing to a longer acting benzodiazepine right away and lower your dose gradually over 3 months. The drug they suggest is Valium. I tried this and had a terrible thing happen. I lost all my intuition, empathy and desire to create. It was horrible. I said it could not get any worse. I’m an artist and it felt like an arm had been cut off. After 3 weeks I was a mess and begged her to switch to clonazepam. She did. I am now at half my original dose and still feel short tempered but got my intuition back. I will be glad to get these drugs out of my body and experience a new life. I have had 5 years of excellent therapy and have made great progress with Focusing, mindfulness, Self Compassion and creative projects. Good luck to anyone going through this. If the doctor puts you on a drug that erases your capibility for empathy or intuition, fight for your right to have a clear mind. It took real convincing but my doctor finally agreed to change the Valium after I said nothing could be worse.

  15. Hi I too have had a violent and traumatic life, it’s taken decades of seeing different therapists to help me navigate through and actually take better care of myself and my needs. Having always been focused outside of myself.
    Therefore taking antidepressants was scary and yes at a low dose I felt the effectiveness after taking them for only 3 days! It’s now been 2 months and I feel better! That aweful ‘heartbeat’ in my stomach took awhile to go and the palpitations eased tremendously. I feel clearer in making better decisions and putting in healthy boundaries is also working.
    I don’t wish to stay on these forever because I was worried that taking
    them would make me fake, kinda like living my life wearing rose coloured glasses!
    I have done so much work on myself and want to be out of my
    marriage (when the time is right) and living a healthy, peaceful and productive life.
    Thank you Judith you have helped me in many ways 🤗

  16. This article connected some dots for me for things in my life I had not considered connected to my being an empath. — For one, I drive my husband nuts because I prefer to go through town rather than go the faster and only way in his mind, the expressway. I can do the expressway when I have to but would rather not because it’s stressful to me on some level that I can’t even explain. Some days I can handle it just fine and other days I just can’t do it. — Second, the part about being depleted due to being an empath and being sensitive to medication and I will add supplements. I have been very sick with fatigue for if I am honest all of my life (I’m 50) which no one could ever figure out the reason for aside from one rhuematologist saying I had fibromyalgia even though I didn’t have the trigger points or the other typical symptoms. I had pain so he decided that must be why. I never bought the diagnosis and kept searching. Now I know it was because of being an empath that I had and have all the pain. I spent years and much money without much result trying to figure out what was “wrong”with me. I recently decided to try hair analysis. My results came back that I was severely depleted in the 4 major minerals. I was given supplements and told I needed to take them 3 times a day. I did not feel comfortable with that amount and so only took them once a day. The practitioner I was working with told me that was not enough to make any progress but I have proved her wrong again and again this past year as I have stayed at one dose a day and have been continuously and steadily improving much to her amazement. I am well aware of my being sensitive to EVERYTHING on every level but until I read this article had not connected my sensitivity to why I only needed them once a day! I am so glad to have read this article. Thank you Judith!

  17. I want to issue a serious warning to anyone, empath or not, to avoid any benzodiazepine class medication for more than a few days or a week or two at a time. Benzos are VERY addictive and tend to become ineffective after a short time. This “tolerance” leads to withdrawal symptoms and feeling sick even though one is still taking the medication. To get off benzos, one must do a very slow taper lasting 6 months to a year and then even after you are off you will experience withdrawal symptoms for 6 more months and even up to two to three years afterward. This is one of the worst taper and withdrawal processes known and can even be fatal if attempted too quickly. I was on them for 15 years and am one year into the taper and withdrawal and still dead in the water due to extreme and difficult neurological symptoms. These include but are not limited to total insomnia, violent sleep startles, body wide nerve pain, ticks, muscle cramps and spasms. Just because you are getting along with these drugs now doesn’t mean that they won’t destroy your life trying to go off them to regain whatever health you had before starting them. Please beware for your own good and that of those who love you.

  18. All so true. I have avoided drugs in my earlier years out of sheer instinct, I once ate a quarter of a marijuana brownie while the others ate one or two and I went up to the bathroom thinking I was in there for 5 hours. I was so disoriented that not knowing where I was in time and space ran into my room and just laid on the bed with my head spinning. My whole life I kept to natural remedies no aspirin no nothing synthetic at all.

  19. Like others, I am highly sensitive to medications. But an interesting thing is that twice when I “should” have had pain, I didn’t. When I broke my ankle (badly) and when I needed and had hip replacement surgery. Just no bone pain at all. When I was talking about this to an osteopath, he had an interesting theory. Since I am extremely sensitive to medication, perhaps when pain is triggered in my body, my body responds and it takes very little in the way of endorphins to address the pain. Also, I felt lovely after-effects for months from the medications they used during the hip surgery. I haven’t heard others talk about this effect.

  20. This makes so much sense for me. I’ve been prescribed a anti-anxiety/anti-depressant for years, but I can only take what is considered a child’s dose (75mg compared to the normal adult dosage of 300-350mg per day). When I first started taking it, I went through a week of hell, where all of my worst symptoms were magnified exponentially. But once I got through that week, it felt like the sun had finally shown through years of a life followed by a gray cloud. I am incredibly sensitive to any changes in medication – once I find something that works for me, I stick with it. Thank you so much for sharing!

  21. My doctors are always surprised so many strong reactions I have to many medications. Recently, I was prescribed a drug with addictive properties and actually felt a very subtle little “kick” in my chest when it wore off, as if it were telling me to take it again! I immediately stopped it and reported to my nurse. She said it was amazing that I noticed that, and that many patients would just reach for their meds thinking, “Oh I need another pill!” and hence become addicted.

    I am intensely grateful for my sensitivity and will always stick up for it, no matter what. We empaths DO feel more than other people, and it’s key to our health and happiness that we pay attention to those subtleties. Thanks for this great article!

  22. Oh, I do dislike taking armour thyroid medication and cannot tolerate the synthetic levothyroxin. Antibiotics so destroy the digestion. When I do not take the thyroid medication, I unable to function at all. Thank you for your work. No real solutions yet.

  23. I just wanted to say I am so incredibly thankful to have found this article. Its something I have been struggling with.

  24. Hi!

    I’m a transplant recipient, so I can understand how medications can alter your perception and well-being. Because it is a process like everything else, you adapt accordingly. I pretend that the drugs are candy right before I pop them into my mouth.

  25. I often say that the migraine medication does not help because it’s not addressing the problem. I also find most doctors refuse to believe that I have an opposite reaction to otc cold medication.

  26. Wow, I just listened to your talk on Hay House World Summit, and it was just what I needed! You shed so much light on what I have experienced all my life. I’m a retired counselor, spiritual director, Reiki master, T’ai Chi Chih teacher, and composer of sacred choral music; I have meditated and worked deeply with energy for years. You have given me life-transforming insights, so liberating! Thank you! Namaste, Karen

  27. I have battled for years trying to find a medication and dosage that works for me. I have been a sensitive soul my whole life. I do believe that I am living from the eternal state in a physical body. Not an easy road. I have consumed much negativity and trauma throughout my life here and have needed medication for which I have spent years trying to find the right one at the right dosage.

    Of late I have played around with the dosage of Prozac. I am now stabilized at 15 mg., which seems to help balance my brain chemistry to where I am actually starting to enjoy my life. I continue to see a therapist and psychiatrist to monitor myself. I just recently told Dr. Pimstone about Judith’s books and how helpful they have been for my well being. I so relate to Judith. We even went to the same Junior college in Santa Monica. Life is so rich in the moment if we can allow ourselves the love to live in it. Peace to all! Elizabeth

  28. Thank you so much for this Judith!!! I’ve been struggling with this and your words are comforting and validating!!

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