Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 7/18/2020
Bupropion, sold under the brand names Wellbutrin®, Wellbutrin SR®, Wellbutrin XL® and Aplenzin®, is a prescription medication that’s used in the treatment of depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
It’s also sold as a smoking cessation medication under the brand name Zyban® and for major depressive disorder under the brand name Forfivo® XL. If you’ve heard people talk about Wellbutrin for smoking, these medications are what they were talking about.
If you’ve been diagnosed with depression or seasonal affective disorder, or if you’re a smoker looking to quit, your healthcare provider may have recommended Wellbutrin (bupropion) as a treatment option.
Below, we’ve explained exactly what Wellbutrin (bupropion) is, how it works, how long it takes to work and why it’s prescribed, and answered some common questions like:
Can I drink on Wellbutrin?
Do bupropion or Wellbutrin and alcohol mix?
What is Wellbutrin Extended Release?
Are bupropion and Wellbutrin addictive?
Is there a difference between Wellbutrin 100mg and Wellbutrin 300mg?
We’ve also looked at how Wellbutrin (bupropion) compares to other antidepressants, as well as the potential adverse effects and interactions that you should be aware of before using this medication.
Wellbutrin (bupropion) is what’s known as an atypical antidepressant. It works by modifying the levels of certain chemicals in your brain. It’s sold in tablet form and is commonly prescribed as a treatment for conditions such as depression and seasonal affective disorder.
It’s also prescribed as a medication for smoking cessation. Research shows that Wellbutrin (bupropion) can reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms in ex-smokers, making it easier to give up cigarettes and other tobacco products.
Compared to many other antidepressants, Wellbutrin (bupropion) is less likely to cause some adverse effects, such as drowsiness, weight loss or gain and sexual dysfunction.
When used as a treatment for depression, Wellbutrin (buproprion) usually takes around six to eight weeks before it starts fully working as a treatment for depression. However, you may begin to experience improvements in your sleep habits, appetite and energy levels as early as one to two weeks of treatment.
It may take four to six weeks to experience a significant improvement in your mood and level of interest in activities after starting bupropion.
When used as a smoking cessation aid, typically under the name brand name Zyban, it can take several weeks for bupropion to start working, as well. Most people are advised to set a target “quit date” and start bupropion while they’re still smoking to give time for the medication to become effective.
Depending on your symptoms, general health and other factors, your healthcare provider may recommend that you take bupropion for seven to 12 weeks after you stop smoking.
Wellbutrin (bupropion) belongs to a class of medications referred to as aminoketones. It works by affecting the way your body produces neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine, which are crucial to our moods.
Neurotransmitters are a type of chemical messenger used by your body. Their job is to transport signals between neurons. You can think of them as an internal messaging system for your body, delivering instructions between neurons and from neurons to other tissue.
Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter responsible for keeping your body alert and ready to act. It helps to increase your heart rate, pump blood throughout your body, keep you awake, alert and able to focus and recall important information.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating learning, pleasure, motivation, sleep, mood and a variety of other important functions.
People with depression may have low levels of norepinephrine and dopamine. By blocking your brain from reabsorbing norepinephrine and dopamine, aminoketone medications such as Wellbutrin (bupropion) can increase norepinephrine and dopamine levels and treat the symptoms of depression.
Currently, experts aren’t sure exactly why bupropion is effective as a treatment for people that want to quit smoking.
However, they believe that its effects on dopamine might be responsible for at least some of its effectiveness as a smoking cessation aid.
Unlike many other smoking cessation treatments, bupropion doesn’t contain nicotine. Instead, it may work by mimicking some of the effects of the nicotine in cigarettes, which also causes your brain to release extra dopamine.
Although this doesn’t necessarily make you less addicted to nicotine, it can help you more easily deal with the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal and cravings for nicotine that often develop when you quit smoking.
Bupropion is available in several dosages. Immediate-release bupropion tablets are available in strengths of 75mg and 100mg, while extended/sustained-release versions of bupropion typically contain 100mg, 150mg, 200mg, 300mg or 450mg of bupropion per tablet.
Certain brands of bupropion may contain a different dosage per tablet. If you’re prescribed any medication containing bupropion, check the packaging that came with the medication to make sure you take the correct amount.
Typical dosages for bupropion can vary based on the type of medication (immediate-release or extended-release) and condition it’s prescribed to treat.
For depression, a typical starting dosage of bupropion is 150mg to 200mg per day, taken either as 100mg tablets taken twice per day or a single 150mg extended-release bupropion tablet taken in the morning. The maximum dosage of bupropion for depression is 300mg to 450mg per day.
After three to four days, you may need to adjust your dosage of bupropion. Follow the dosage instructions provided by your healthcare provider to make sure you take the right amount of bupropion.
For smoking cessation, a typical starting dosage is one 150mg extended-release tablet per day for the first three days, followed by a dosage of 300mg per day, taken as two tablets taken at least eight hours apart, from day four.
Based on your symptoms, health history, response to the medication and several other factors, your healthcare provider may adjust your dosage of bupropion over time.
Like all antidepressants, bupropion can cause certain side effects. Most of the bupropion or Wellbutrin side effects that can occur are minor and temporary. However, there are also several potentially severe bupropion side effects that you should be aware of before using this medication.
Some of the common Wellbutrin side effects include:
Nasopharyngitis, rhinitis and other cold-like symptoms
Tachycardia (fast heart beat)
Weight loss or gain
Many of these bupropion and Wellbutrin side effects may be mild and often disappear over the course of several days or weeks. If you experience persistent side effects from bupropion, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider.
In general, bupropion is less likely to cause sexual dysfunction than other commonly prescribed antidepressants, such as SSRIs and tricyclic antidepressants.
Like other antidepressants, bupropion may cause serious side effects. These side effects occur in a small percentage of bupropion users. Serious side effects of bupropion include:
Mental health issues, such as panic attacks, changes in mood, impulsive behavior and worsened depression or anxiety.
Hypertension. Bupropion may contribute to hypertension (high blood pressure). If you have high blood pressure or a history of cardiovascular issues, make sure you inform your healthcare provider before using bupropion.
Vision issues, such as eye pain or swelling/redness of the eyes or surrounding area.
Seizures. Though rare, depending on dosage, anywhere from .1 percent to .4 percent of people who use bupropion experience seizures or an increased risk of seizures.
If you have a health condition that may contribute to seizures, increase your risk of seizures or a seizure disorder in general, it’s important that you disclose this to your healthcare provider before using bupropion or similar medications. Conditions that may increase your seizure risk include:
Head injuries, such as head trauma
Active brain tumors
A history of epilepsy or other conditions that cause seizures
Withdrawal from or addiction to alcohol, benzodiazepines or illicit drugs
Use of other drugs that may affect your seizure susceptibility, such as other antidepressants, antipsychotics, systemic corticosteroids or theophylline
Bupropion may affect your weight and/or appetite. Before considering bupropion, make sure you inform your healthcare provider if you’ve previously had an eating disorder such as bulimia or anorexia.
Bupropion may also not be a suitable treatment for people with liver or kidney issues, diabetes or certain psychiatric disorders like bipolar disorder.
You can learn about how bupropion works compared to another common antidepressant, Zoloft, in our guide to Wellbutrin vs Zoloft.
As is common with antidepressants, bupropion has a “black box” safety warning from the FDA — the most serious type of FDA warning. This warning is found on bupropion medications used for treating depression — bupropion smoking cessation aids do not carry the same warning.
This warning informs users that antidepressants can increase the risk of suicidal ideation and/or behavior in children, adolescents and young adults. Studies do not show that this risk of suicidal ideation and/or behavior occurs in people aged 24 and older.
If you’re prescribed bupropion to treat depression or seasonal affective disorder and experience any sudden changes in behavior, thoughts, mood or feelings, contact your healthcare provider immediately.
Bupropion can interact with other medications, including over-the-counter medications, herbal products and health supplements.
These drug interactions may increase the amount of bupropion in your body or make the medication less effective. In some cases, the use of bupropion can cause dangerous drug interactions with other medications.
Dangerous interactions can occur when bupropion is used with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) — another type of antidepressant medication.
These interactions can occur if you’ve taken an MAOI within the last 14 days. If you have used an MAOI medication, such as phenelzine, isocarboxazid, tranylcypromine, selegiline or others, you must inform your healthcare provider before being prescribed bupropion.
Bupropion can interact with other antidepressant medications, including SSRIs, SNRIs, tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and other medications used to treat major depression. Make sure to tell your healthcare provider if you currently use or have recently used any other medications to treat depression.
Other medications that can interact with bupropion include antipsychotics, beta-blockers, blood thinners, corticosteroids, antiarrhythmics, theophylline, amantadine, dopamine precursors (such as levodopa) and transdermal nicotine patches.
To avoid interactions, inform your healthcare provider of all medications you currently use or have recently used, as well as any relevant health conditions, before using bupropion.
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with depression, your healthcare provider may have suggested a range of different medications to treat your symptoms and improve your quality of life.
Bupropion is one of several medications used to treat depression. Others include SSRIs, SNRIs and a variety of other antidepressants. Our complete guide to medications for depression goes into more detail on the options that are available, how they work and more.