Medically reviewed by Jill Johnson, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 8/23/2021
Wellbutrin is a medication commonly prescribed to treat depression. It is sold under the names Wellbutrin®, Wellbutrin SR® and Wellbutrin XL®. It’s also known by its generic name, bupropion.
In addition to treating depression, bupropion is used to treat seasonal affective disorder and to help people stop smoking.
Bupropion is considered an antidepressant, which works by boosting certain types of brain activity.
Keep reading to find out more about how bupropion works, what the potential side effects are and how long Wellbutrin stays in your system.
As mentioned above, Wellbutrin is an antidepressant medication. Bupropion comes as a tablet and is most commonly prescribed as a treatment for depression and seasonal affective disorder.
It's also sometimes prescribed to help with the cessation of smoking. According to research, bupropion reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms in people trying to stop smoking — which makes it easier to stop using tobacco products.
When you take bupropion, it alters the way your body produces neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine — both of which are deeply connected to our moods.
So, what are neurotransmitters? They’re essentially messengers in chemical form that your body uses.
This internal messaging system delivers instructions between neurons and from neurons to other tissue in your body.
The neurotransmitter norepinephrine keeps your body alert. Some of the things it’s responsible for: increasing your heart rate, pumping blood through your body, keeping you awake, and more
Dopamine is another important neurotransmitter. It helps boost learning retention, pleasure, motivation, sleep, mood and more.
Here’s a bit more about what Wellbutrin (or generic bupropion) does based on why you’re using it:
Ease Depression: People with depression may have issues with low norepinephrine and dopamine. Bupropion stops your brain from reabsorbing norepinephrine and dopamine, increasing norepinephrine and dopamine levels.
It can take weeks for bupropion to start working, but you may notice some relief in depression symptoms shortly after you start taking the medication.
Stop Smoking: It’s not exactly understood why bupropion helps people stop smoking. What is known: Bupropion doesn’t contain nicotine (and many other treatments for quitting smoking do). It is thought that it may work by causing your brain to release extra dopamine. As with using bupropion for depression, it can take several weeks to notice the medication is working.
Like with other antidepressants, when used for depression, bupropion has a “black box” safety warning from the FDA. This is the most serious type of FDA warning.
This important warning informs people that antidepressants can increase the risk of suicidal ideation and/or behavior in children, adolescents and young adults.
Short-term studies have not shown that this risk occurs in people aged 24 and older.
If you are taking bupropion and notice any sudden changes in behavior, thoughts, mood or feelings, contact your healthcare provider immediately.
When compared to many other antidepressant drugs, bupropion is less likely to cause adverse effects like drowsiness, weight gain and sexual issues.
That said, there are some minor side reactions you may notice, such as:
Regardless of how minor the adverse events you may experience might be, discuss them with your healthcare provider to ensure you’re receiving appropriate care for your mental health condition.
Though rare, there are sometimes more severe side effects associated with bupropion. These include:
Changes in mood, panic attacks and worsened depression or anxiety.
Hypertension. If you have blood pressure issues, tell your healthcare provider before taking bupropion.
Risk of seizure. This occurs in less than 1% of people who take the medication.
If you have a history of seizures, tell your healthcare professional.
First, know that suddenly stopping any antidepressant can cause some nasty withdrawal symptoms — and it’s never a good idea. Instead, if you feel you no longer need the medication, discuss it first with your healthcare provider. You can then work together to taper off the medication slowly.
Interestingly, what happens with withdrawal from antidepressants can look a lot like depressive symptoms.
Along with a depressed mood and difficulty sleeping, you may experience physical symptoms like dizziness and digestive issues.
So, how long after you cease taking bupropion will it be out of your system? The half-life (i.e., how long something is reduced in your system by 50%) of this medication is 21 hours.
According to experts, there should be no trace of Wellbutrin (or bupropion) in your system nearly four and a half days after your final dose.
For context, this is similar to the 24-hour half life of paroxetine (brand name Paxil®), which is typically also out of your system in just under four and a half days.
Duloxetine (brand name Cymbalta®) has a slightly smaller half-life at 12 hours — and should be fully gone in two and a half days.
Venlafaxine (brand name Effexor®) has one of the shorter half lives at just five hours — and is usually traceless within a day.
It could be — and the best way to tell is to talk with a mental health provider.
As you read above, Wellbutrin (or the generic bupropion) is a prescription medication commonly used to treat depression and seasonal affective disorder.
It is also sometimes used to help people stop smoking, and typically doesn’t cause a lot of side effects.
When used for the treatment of depression, bupropion shifts the way your body produces neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine — two chemical messengers deeply connected to mood.
And when it comes to how long Wellbutrin could stay in your system, the average half-life is half a day, and it can be totally gone from your body in just under five days (from the last dose).
If you think you may want to take Wellbutrin, speak to a healthcare provider or check out online psychiatry. Similarly, if you want to stop taking it, you should consult a professional first.