Wellbutrin: Side Effects, Risks & Addiction
In This Article
What is Wellbutrin?
Wellbutrin (bupropion) is an FDA-approved antidepressant medication. It's one of the most frequently prescribed antidepressants in the U.S.
The medication treats major depressive disorder in adults, as well as seasonal affective disorder (episodes of depression that commonly occur during the fall and winter seasons). It's also used to help people quit smoking.
Off label, non-FDA approved uses include:
- Antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Depression associated with bipolar disorder
Additionally, unlike most antidepressants—which are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)—Wellbutrin works differently. More specifically, it is a norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitor (NDRI).
This means that it increases the levels of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine (the feel-good neurotransmitter), which in turn improves one’s mood.
Side effects of Wellbutrin
Common side effects of Wellbutrin include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Constipation and abdominal pain
- Decreased sex drive
- Nervousness and anxiety
- Muscle and joint pain
- Increased sweating
- Appetite loss and weight loss
- Changes in the way food tastes and a strange taste in the mouth
- Ringing in ears
- Increased urination
- Hair loss
These effects usually cease in a few weeks once the body adjusts to the drug.
Some side effects of Wellbutrin can be severe or even potentially life-threatening. These include:
- Changes in vision
- Chest pain
- Aggressiveness or hostility
- Delusions or hallucinations
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Fever and chills
- Changes in menstrual cycle
- Difficulty breathing
- Yellow skin or eyes
- Dark urine
- Severe headaches
- Skin rash or swollen and blistered skin
- Suicidal thoughts and ideation
If you experience any of these above side effects, seek medical help immediately.
Risks of Wellbutrin
Before taking Wellbutrin or any antidepressant medication, speak with your healthcare provider about the risks and benefits of the medication.
Wellbutrin, like any medication, comes with several possible side effects, most of which are not serious and likely to disappear once the body becomes used to them. However, other side effects may be severe and even life-threatening.
Seizures and suicidal thoughts are two of the most serious potential side effects of Wellbutrin. Though the risk of seizures is rare, it's approximately four times greater than in other antidepressants.
Wellbutrin may also increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior, especially at the beginning of the treatment or any time that the dose is increased or decreased.
People of all ages who begin taking Wellbutrin should also be monitored and observed closely for clinical worsening, suicidality, or unusual changes in behavior.
Four out of every 1000 people who take Wellbutrin in doses less than 450 mg/day experience seizures. When these doses exceed 450 mg/day, the risk increases ten-fold.
Wellbutrin is generally considered to be non-habit forming and non-addictive. But like any drug, it has the potential to be abused and can lead to addiction.
The non-medical use of Wellbutrin has not been thoroughly studied. However, its effects on dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain are similar to that of illicit stimulants, such as cocaine.
Here are some possible signs of addiction:
- Taking the medication in a higher dose than prescribed
- Consuming the medication in a way other than prescribed (snorting or injecting)
- Becoming obsessed with the drug
- Losing interest in hobbies or daily activities
Other symptoms include:
- Increased heartrate
- Muscle twitches
Current research indicates Wellbutrin is non-habit-forming. Therefore, there is little information on treatment and few resources available on the topic.
Don't discontinue Wellbutrin use abruptly unless it results in a seizure. Instead, talk with your doctor about the best way to stop taking it.
Coming off antidepressants is generally done in a specific process of tapering the dosage over time to help avoid withdrawal symptoms. In severe cases, a medically assisted detoxification program may be necessary to get the help you need.
A safe recovery begins with a safe detox.
Once detox is complete, and Wellbutrin is completely out of your system, participation in therapies is necessary. This may include recreational therapy and group therapy.
If you still suffer from depression, are many other SSRIs available; switching medication may help.
If you or a loved one is struggling with Wellbutrin addiction, seeking professional help is the first step to living a substance-free life.
Call to find out how much your insurance will cover
- National Institute of Health. “Bupropion." NIH.
- CTV News, Updated July 25, 2013. “Doctors warn of potentially fatal abuse of Wellbutrin antidepressant.” CTV.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Wellbutrin." FDA.
- Patel, Krisna et al. “Bupropion: a systematic review and meta-analysis of effectiveness as an antidepressant.” Therapeutic advances in psychopharmacology, 2016.
- Fava, Maurizio et al. “15 years of clinical experience with bupropion HCl: from bupropion to bupropion SR to bupropion XL.” Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry, 2005.
- “Wellbutrin (Bupropion): Pain Management Uses, Side Effects, Dosage, Interactions, Warning.” RxList, RxList, 17 Feb. 2021.