How Long Does Withdrawal From Wellbutrin Last?

Wellbutrin (bupropion) is a common antidepressant. Over the past two decades, it has helped millions of people claw their way out of depression. It is also used to help people quit smoking. While this drug has a variety of potential benefits, like all antidepressants, it doesn’t work for everyone. If you are considering stopping Wellbutrin, either because it isn’t working or because it worked and you feel better, you will want to know what to expect. This article will give you a good overview of what Wellbutrin withdrawal is like and how long it will last.

Overview

Antidepressants are among the top three most commonly prescribed medications in the United States. Some people take them for a few weeks or months, whereas others take them for years. About one in four people on antidepressants have been taking them for 10 or more years. Once they find an antidepressant that works for them, many people continue taking it indefinitely. This is particularly true when the antidepressant causes no significant side effects.

Still, people go on and off antidepressants all the time. Antidepressants are an unusual class of drugs because not every drug works for every person. It takes some people several tries before they find a medication that works for them. You may also be choosing to stop your Wellbutrin dose because you feel stable and ready to live without it. Other reasons for stopping include having successfully quit smoking.

You may have heard about something called antidepressant discontinuation syndrome—which is basically a fancy way of saying antidepressant withdrawal. This is more common with antidepressants that affect a neurotransmitter called serotonin. Wellbutrin does not have a major effect on serotonin. As a result, the withdrawal symptoms are typically mild, or, more often, undetectable.

It is not common to experience Wellbutrin withdrawal symptoms, but those who do may become agitated and irritable. If you recently quit smoking, you may find your nicotine cravings return.

Signs and Symptoms

Most people do not experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking Wellbutrin. Among those who do, the symptoms range in severity from mild to moderate. However, if you are quitting Wellbutrin and a more common class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), your symptoms may be more severe.

Many people take Wellbutrin as part of an “antidepressant cocktail.” Research has indicated that Wellbutrin may work to boost the effects of other antidepressants. Doctors often prescribe it in conjunction with SSRIs.

Antidepressants affect the levels of certain neurotransmitters in your brain. Neurotransmitters are like your body’s chemical messengers. They help manage all of the complex functions your body performs, like eating and sleeping. They also play a role in your emotions and moods.

Most of the modern antidepressants out there affect a neurotransmitter called serotonin. Serotonin plays an important role in mood stabilization. Although the exact causes of depression are unknown, doctors believe that low levels of serotonin are a contributing factor.

SSRIs, like Prozac and Lexapro, increase your serotonin levels. But when you abruptly stop taking these drugs, it can be a real shock to the system. As the body adjusts to lower serotonin levels, it is not uncommon to experience withdrawal symptoms.

Because serotonin plays an important role in so many of your body’s systems, withdrawal symptoms can be quite varied. If you are quitting an SSRI, you may experience: 

  • Sweating: You may become flushed and sweat excessively, especially in the heat.
  • Digestive problems: Serotonin plays a major role in the digestive system, so people often experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or loss of appetite.
  • Trouble sleeping: You may have difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep. You may also experience unusual dreams or nightmares.
  • Neurological effects: You may experience tremors, restless legs, difficulty forming words, trouble chewing, numbness, or difficulty walking.
  • Psychological symptoms: You may experience mood swings, agitation, anxiety, mania, depression, paranoia, or suicidal feelings.
  • Brain zaps: This is a strange phenomenon that feels like a shock to your head. It is also described as a brain shake or shiver.

Wellbutrin works differently than other antidepressants because it affects the neurotransmitters dopamine and noradrenaline. Unless you are also withdrawing from an SSRI, it is unlikely that you will experience any of the serotonin-related symptoms described above.

There are very few published cases of Wellbutrin withdrawal in the scientific literature. However, according to Dr. Joseph Glenmullen, author of The Antidepressant Solution, irritability is a common symptom. In Glenmullen’s experience, patients quitting Wellbutrin often resemble patients quitting smoking. This includes a state of extreme agitation as well as uncharacteristically hostile, rude, or aggressive behavior.

If you were using Wellbutrin to quit smoking, it is also possible that your nicotine cravings may return when you stop taking the drug. Fortunately, these cravings should be mild compared to what you have experienced in the past.

The Chemistry of Depression

Coping and Relief

If you have a mental illness like depression or bipolar disorder, it is important to stay in contact with a doctor or therapist whenever you adjust your medications. Talking to a therapist can help you cope with challenges such as mood swings, agitation, and feelings of hopelessness.

If you were taking Wellbutrin to quit smoking, you may want to keep a nicotine patch or some nicotine gum on hand. This will help reduce potential nicotine cravings and any associated agitation.

Warnings

Although Wellbutrin isn’t typically associated with withdrawal symptoms, it does come with a serious warning about decreasing or altering your dose. The FDA warns that changing or decreasing your dose of Wellbutrin could cause you to become suicidal.

Suicidal feelings are more common among children and young adults age 24 and under, but they can happen to anyone. Your risk of suicide is higher if you or anyone in your family has bipolar disorder, mania, or a history of suicidal thoughts or actions.

When to Get Help

You should seek emergency medical care if you or someone you know is experiencing any of the following:

  • Thoughts of harming or killing yourself
  • Thoughts about how you would kill yourself
  • Severe restlessness or abnormal excitement
  • Frenzied behavior
  • Acting without thinking
  • Extreme worry or agitation
  • Panic attacks

The risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors is small, but it does happen to some people. Before you stop taking Wellbutrin, discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor. If you decide to stop your dose, a short taper may be the best way to go.

Long-Term Treatment

The safest way to stop taking antidepressants is to slowly taper down your dose. Wellbutrin tapering schedules are usually fairly short. Working with your doctor, you can make a schedule to incrementally reduce your dose over the course of one or two weeks.

After your Wellbutrin taper, any long-term treatment will be directed towards treating the condition that led you to take Wellbutrin in the first place. If you are struggling with depression, your doctor may want to switch you to an SSRI that you haven’t tried before. It can take several tries before you find the right medication or combination of medications.

Keep in mind, there is no single pill out there that is going to “fix” you. Depression is a complex disease that requires a multi-pronged treatment approach. Medication can only do so much on its own. If you have tried one or more antidepressants and your symptoms have not improved, then it is definitely time to seek therapy.

Scientific research has concluded that a combination of psychotherapy and medication works better for depression and anxiety than medication alone.

Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is a long-term process in which you work to better understand yourself. You will explore the reasons why you do the things you do and feel the way you feel. Together with a qualified therapist, you will learn how to work towards the life you want by reforming the unhealthy routines standing in your way.  

Resources

If you or someone you love is experiencing suicidal thoughts, you can always reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255). You will be connected with staff or volunteers at a crisis center near you. The people on the other end of the line can help you calm down and figure out what to do next.

Therapy is a very important part of depression treatment. If you don’t have a therapist or don’t wish to continue with your current therapist, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) can help you find a new one. Check out their searchable directory of qualified providers. You can also call them at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

If you have health insurance, another way to find a therapist is to search your insurance plan’s website. Typically, insurance companies have a list of local providers who accept your insurance.

Tips for Coping With Depression and Suicidal Thoughts

A Word From Verywell

Depression is a stubborn disease. It can feel like you are stuck in a long dark tunnel with no end in sight, but you can’t let that feeling overwhelm you. This particular tunnel is curvy—you just can’t see the way out yet. Just keep moving forward and try not to lose hope when you bump into walls and trip over your own feet.

If Wellbutrin didn’t work, try something else. Or try combining Wellbutrin with an SSRI. And if you feel like you’re at your wit’s end, find a therapist in the directory and schedule two appointments per week for the next month. Then see where you are.

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