What to Know About Wellbutrin (Bupropion)

An antidepressant approved to treat MDD and SAD

What Is Wellbutrin?

Wellbutrin (bupropion) is an antidepressant used to help treat a number of health conditions. It comes as an immediate-release, sustained-release, or extended-release tablet that is taken orally. 

One factor that makes Wellbutrin especially unique among antidepressants is that it doesn't tend to affect sexual function or reduce libido, and may even increase it. In fact, Wellbutrin is often prescribed along with other antidepressants to help counter their sexual side effects, like loss of desire.

Learn more about what Wellbutrin is and how it is used. We also share what you should know before you take this medication, including the potential side effects of Wellbutrin and drug interactions.

side effects of wellbutrin
Verywell / JR Bee

Wellbutrin Uses

Wellbutrin is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat major depressive disorder (MDD) and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It is also used off-label to help with symptoms of various other conditions.

Wellbutrin may be prescribed for:

Wellbutrin is also sometimes used in the treatment of certain forms of nerve pain.

Another brand of bupropion (the active ingredient in Wellbutrin), called Zyban, is used to help people quit smoking. Research shows that taking bupropion can double a person's chances of kicking their cigarette habit.

Wellbutrin Side Effects

Some Wellbutrin side effects are merely bothersome and likely to disappear as your body gets used to the medication. Others are more serious and should prompt a call to your healthcare provider right away. If you have been prescribed Wellbutrin, here are some side effects to watch for.

Common Side Effects

During the first week or two of taking Wellbutrin, you may experience headaches, dry mouth, nausea, dizziness, insomnia, constipation, sore throat, and a fast heartbeat. Other common side effects for Wellbutrin, Wellbutrin SR, and Wellbutrin XL can include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Anxiety
  • Appetite loss
  • Changes in the way food tastes
  • Drowsiness
  • Flushing
  • Gas
  • Hair loss
  • Increased sweating
  • Joint aches
  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Ringing in your ears
  • Tremors
  • Urinating more than usual
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss

Severe Side Effects

Some Wellbutrin side effects can be severe or even potentially life-threatening. Get medical help right away if you experience any of the following while taking any version of Wellbutrin: 

  • Allergic reaction (symptoms can include a skin rash; hives, itching; difficulty breathing; a feeling of tightness in your chest; swelling of your mouth, face, or tongue; and/or unusual hoarseness)
  • Aggressiveness
  • Agitation
  • Changes in your menstrual cycle
  • Changes in sexual desire or function
  • Changes in vision
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion
  • Dark urine
  • Delusions or hallucinations
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Exaggerated feelings of well-being
  • Fainting
  • Fever, chills, or a sore throat
  • Hearing problems
  • Hostility
  • Impulsiveness
  • Inability to sit still
  • Pale-colored stools
  • Panic attacks
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Seizures
  • Severe headache
  • Severe or lingering joint or muscle pain
  • Severe or lingering nausea, vomiting, or stomach pain
  • Severe or lingering nervousness, restlessness, or insomnia
  • Swollen, blistered, or peeling skin
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Unusual swelling
  • Worsening depression and/or suicidal thoughts
  • Yellow skin or eyes

How Long Do Wellbutrin Side Effects Last?

If Wellbutrin side effects do occur, they will usually go away within a week or two of starting the medication, as your body begins to adjust. If your side effects last longer, are severe, or worsen, contact your healthcare provider right away. Your dosage may need to be changed or the medication switched to ease these effects.

Before Taking Wellbutrin

Wellbutrin is often used as a first-line antidepressant in the treatment of MDD and SAD. Your healthcare provider will evaluate your symptoms and current health status to determine if it is right for you.

You may not be prescribed Wellbutrin if you have certain health conditions.

  • You should not take Wellbutrin if you have an eating disorder, angle-closure glaucoma, or a seizure disorder.
  • People with bipolar disorder may be at an increased risk of experiencing manic, mixed, or hypomanic episodes after taking Wellbutrin. While bupropion is sometimes prescribed off-label to treat depressive episodes, it is not approved for the treatment of bipolar depression. Those with bipolar disorder may also have an increased risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts after taking Wellbutrin.
  • Your doctor may recommend a reduced dosage of the drug if you have a history of kidney problems, kidney disease, or liver problems. Because older adults may have reduced kidney function, they may require smaller doses since the drug remains in the body longer.
  • Never take Wellbutrin if you have a known allergy to bupropion. You should contact emergency services immediately if you begin to experience allergic symptoms such as rash, swelling, hives, itching, and difficulty breathing.
  • Wellbutrin has not been established as safe for children.

It's not clear whether Wellbutrin is safe to take during pregnancy. In animal studies, there has been some evidence of adverse effects on the fetus, but we don't yet have enough data about its effect on humans. The potential benefits of continuing Wellbutrin during pregnancy may outweigh the possible risks, but this should be discussed closely with your health provider.

Wellbutrin can be present in breast milk, so caution should be used by people who are breastfeeding. If you are lactating, your healthcare provider can help you weigh your options.

Other NDRIs

Among antidepressants, bupropion is in a category all its own—it's the only medication in its class, called norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs). NDRIs boost the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine.

By contrast, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac (fluoxetine) and Zoloft (sertraline) affect serotonin, while serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) such as Cymbalta (duloxetine) and Effexor (venlafaxine) boost norepinephrine and serotonin.

How Long Does It Take Wellbutrin to Work?

Your condition should start to improve within the first week or two of beginning Wellbutrin. You may notice positive effects, such as that you sleep better, have more energy, or your appetite has improved, for instance. Improvement of psychological symptoms, such as those related to mood, may take a bit longer—or up to eight weeks.

If you're taking bupropion to help you quit smoking, this medication works by reducing your tobacco cravings. Starting it about one week before you plan to quit gives it time to reach a therapeutic effect in your system.

Wellbutrin can be fairly fast-acting when used for weight loss. One study involving 3,362 people found that many lost 5% of their body weight within eight weeks of starting a treatment containing bupropion, with more than half keeping this weight off a year later.

Wellbutrin Dosage

Wellbutrin is offered in three different formulations, and dosing varies for each version.

  • Immediate-release: The regular formulation, simply named Wellbutrin, is an immediate-release medication. This means that it begins to work shortly after you take it. Because it acts quickly, it can be taken up to three times a day. This formulation is used to treat MDD. A starting dose of Wellbutrin is usually 100 milligrams (mg) taken twice a day, potentially increased to 100mg taken three times a day. The maximum dose is 150mg per single dose taken three times daily.
  • Sustained-release: Wellbutrin SR, the sustained-release version, also treats MDD. This formulation is typically started at 150mg once a day and potentially increased to 150mg twice a day. It can be increased to a maximum of 200mg taken twice a day.
  • Extended-release: Taken once a day, Wellbutrin XL is used to treat MDD and to prevent SAD. It is typically started at a dose of 150mg once a day and can be increased to 300mg or even 450mg maximum, both taken once a day.

Modifications

Your healthcare provider may prescribe a modified dosage of Wellbutrin due to possible side effects or another health concern.

  • With liver impairments: Wellbutrin dosage is often lowered to a maximum of 75mg per day for those with moderate to severe liver impairment.
  • With kidney problems: Your dosage or frequency of use may also be lowered if you have kidney impairments.
  • After or before monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): If you have previously taken an MAOI or are switching to one, allow 14 days between Wellbutrin and the MAOI.

Recap

Wellbutrin is available in three different formulations. Talk to your healthcare provider about which is right for you. You may require a different dosing schedule if you have certain health conditions.

How to Take and Store Wellbutrin

Always take your medications as directed. Immediate-release Wellbutrin tablets can be broken if necessary, but they are small enough that doing so is not usually needed. The drug can be taken on an empty stomach or with food and should be stored at room temperature, protected from light and moisture.

If you happen to miss a dose of bupropion, take it as soon as you remember. Any remaining doses for the day should be taken at least six hours apart. Never take two doses of Wellbutrin at once to make up for a missed dose as this can increase your risk of experiencing a seizure or an accidental overdose.

If you want to stop taking Wellbutrin, talk to your healthcare provider about tapering off of your medication gradually. If you stop suddenly, your symptoms may worsen or you may experience withdrawal.

Warnings and Interactions

Seizures and suicidal thoughts are two of the most serious potential side effects of Wellbutrin. Seizures are rare with this drug but may affect up to four out of every 1,000 people currently taking Wellbutrin.

For that reason, it's especially important to let your health provider know if you have or had a seizure disorder; you take any other medications that contain bupropion, such as Zyban (for quitting smoking); or you have or have had an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia, as seizures are more likely to occur with these disorders.

Antidepressant drugs like Wellbutrin may increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior in children, teens, and young adults up to age 24—especially when first starting the medication or when there's a change in dose. If you have a child taking Wellbutrin or another depression medication, keep a close eye out for signs of self-harm or suicidal thinking.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Interactions

There are a number of potential interactions that can occur when other substances are taken at the same time as Wellbutrin. Other medications may influence how bupropion works or increase the risk of side effects. These medications include:

  • Antipsychotics, such as Risperdal (risperidone) or Haldol (haloperidol)
  • Blood thinners
  • Corticosteroids, including prednisone
  • MAOIs
  • Other antidepressants, including Prozac, Zoloft, and Effexor

Using Wellbutrin with alcohol may also influence the frequency and severity of side effects, including seizures and suicidal thoughts.

A Word From Verywell

The most common Wellbutrin side effects tend to be the least serious and are likely to be temporary. Contact your health provider if you experience side effects that are severe, bothersome, get worse, or don't go away. Get help immediately if you have any side effects that could be serious or life-threatening.

In either case, don't stop taking Wellbutrin until you've checked with your health provider first. Going "cold-turkey" with any antidepressant can cause your symptoms to come back or get worse.

Stopping abruptly can also lead to discontinuation syndrome, an array of flu-like symptoms such as stomach upset, headache, strange sensations, and muscle aches. If you need to stop taking Wellbutrin, your provider can guide you in gradually tapering off.

9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Food and Drug Administration. Wellbutrin (bupropion hydrochloride) tablets.

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  4. Eisenberg MJ, Grandi SM, Gervais A. Bupropion for smoking cessation in patients hospitalized with acute myocardial infarction: A randomized, placebo-controlled trial. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2013;61(5):524-532. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2012.08.1030

  5. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Bupropion (Wellbutrin).

  6. National Library of Medicine. Smoking cessation medications. MedlinePlus.

  7. Fujioka K, Plodkowski R, O'Neil PM, Gilder K, Walsh B, Greenway FL. The relationship between early weight loss and weight loss at 1 year with naltrexone ER/bupropion ER combination therapy. Int J Obesity. 2016;40:1369-1375. doi:10.1038/ijo.2016.67

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Additional Reading

By Nancy Schimelpfening
Nancy Schimelpfening, MS is the administrator for the non-profit depression support group Depression Sanctuary. Nancy has a lifetime of experience with depression, experiencing firsthand how devastating this illness can be.