Bupropion (Wellbutrin) for Anxiety and Depression

Wellbutrin, also known as bupropion, is a medication primarily used to treat depression and seasonal affective disorder in adults. Classified as an antidepressant, it’s designed to help balance certain chemicals in the brain that affect mood. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1985, Wellbutrin has gained recognition for its efficacy in addressing these mental health conditions. Notably, it also holds FDA approval for aiding smoking cessation, broadening its therapeutic applications.

In this article, we delve into the various facets of Wellbutrin, exploring its FDA-approved uses, off-label applications, mechanisms of action, side effects, and more to provide a comprehensive understanding of this medication and its role in mental health treatment [7].

What is Wellbutrin used for?

Wellbutrin is FDA-approved to treat major depressive disorder (MDD), adult depression, seasonal affective disorder, and smoking cessation [7]. While it’s not typically prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, some individuals (not all) may experience increased anxiety as a side effect [1]. Therefore, anyone with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or other anxiety disorders should discuss treatment options with their healthcare provider [1].

Beyond its FDA-approved uses, Wellbutrin is often prescribed off-label for various conditions, including bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) [5]. Off-label use refers to prescribing a medication for a condition not officially approved by regulatory agencies, requiring careful consideration and monitoring by healthcare providers [1].

Research suggests it can improve concentration, focus, impulsivity, and hyperactivity in adults with ADHD [5]. Additionally, Wellbutrin has been used successfully in treating antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction, anxiety associated with depression, dysthymic disorder, and mild-to-moderate bipolar depression [2]. It has also shown promise in weight management, smoking cessation, neuropathic pain, and addressing symptoms of social phobia and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) [2].

How does Wellbutrin work?

Wellbutrin works by blocking the reuptake of two neurotransmitters: norepinephrine and dopamine. This means it helps to increase the levels of these two chemicals in the brain [10].

Unlike many other antidepressants, Wellbutrin doesn’t directly affect serotonin or other neurotransmitter systems. Instead, it focuses specifically on norepinephrine and dopamine [10]. This unique mechanism sets it apart from other medications in its class. As a result, Wellbutrin’s targeted approach may decrease the likelihood of experiencing certain side effects commonly associated with other antidepressants, such as sexual dysfunction, weight gain, and sedation (sleepiness) [10].

Side Effects of Wellbutrin

Wellbutrin, like any medication, has the possibility of side effects ranging from mild discomfort to potentially serious concerns.

Common side effects include [7]:

  • Insomnia
  • Headache
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea

These side effects are usually mild and rarely lead to stopping the treatment [7]. However, some rare but severe side effects can occur, such as allergic reactions and seizures, especially at higher doses [6].

Patients should be cautious if they have untreated mild hypertension, as Wellbutrin may worsen it when used with other medications [6].

More severe complications, including seizures and worsening suicidal thoughts (especially in young adults), can occur. Seizures occur in about 1 out of 1000 people taking a target dose of 300 mg/day [6].

Close monitoring by healthcare providers is essential, especially considering potential interactions with other medications and effects during pregnancy and breastfeeding [7].

Other side effects may include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Changes in appetite or weight

Wellbutrin Weight Loss

Wellbutrin can lead to weight loss, with around 23% experiencing it with Wellbutrin XL and 14-19% with Wellbutrin SR, depending on the dosage [1].

The exact mechanism behind the weight loss is unclear but may be related to increased dopamine levels in the brain. Not all patients will experience weight changes, and close monitoring is necessary, especially for those who are already underweight or at risk of malnutrition [1].

How is Wellbutrin the same as other antidepressants?

Wellbutrin, unlike many other antidepressants, targets specific chemicals in the brain, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, rather than serotonin [1, 9].

Despite this difference, it shares similarities with other antidepressants, such as [1]:

  • Treatment Aim: Both Wellbutrin and other antidepressants aim to boost certain brain chemicals to alleviate depression symptoms.
  • Common Use: They are commonly prescribed for depression, although they can also serve other purposes.
  • Formulation: Both Wellbutrin and other antidepressants come in oral forms, usually taking a few weeks to take effect fully.
  • Safety: Studies indicate that Wellbutrin and some other antidepressants have similar safety profiles, suggesting comparable effectiveness in treating depression.

How is Wellbutrin different from other antidepressants?

Wellbutrin, classified as an atypical antidepressant, differs from others in several ways [3, 8]:

  • Mechanism of Action: While many antidepressants primarily affect serotonin levels, Wellbutrin increases norepinephrine and dopamine levels. This sets it apart from SSRIs and SNRIs. 
  • Side Effects: Wellbutrin is less associated with sexual side effects, a common concern with other antidepressants. This difference may be relevant for individuals experiencing sexual dysfunction as a side effect of different antidepressants.
  • Use in Smoking Cessation: Wellbutrin is also utilized for smoking cessation, unlike many other antidepressants primarily indicated for mood disorders.

Is Wellbutrin good for anxiety and depression?

While Wellbutrin is primarily used to treat depression, it has also shown effectiveness in managing and treating anxiety symptoms, especially in individuals who experience anxiety alongside depression [10].

One study comparing the effectiveness of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and bupropion in over 8,000 patients undergoing psychiatric treatment found no significant difference in anxiety outcomes over 12 weeks [9]. Both medication groups showed similar reductions in anxiety levels, challenging the common belief among clinicians that bupropion may exacerbate anxiety. This suggests that bupropion could be a viable treatment option for individuals dealing with anxiety alongside depression [9].

How long does it take Wellbutrin to work?

It may take several weeks for individuals to experience the full benefits of Wellbutrin [1]. Some patients may notice improvements in symptoms within the first few weeks of treatment, while others may require longer to respond [1]. Consistent medication use as prescribed is essential for optimal results [1].

Who is a good candidate for Wellbutrin?

Wellbutrin is often considered for individuals who haven’t responded well to other antidepressants or have experienced side effects from them [1]. It may particularly benefit those with depression or seasonal affective disorder who don’t experience significant anxiety symptoms [1]. However, the decision to prescribe Wellbutrin should be made after discussing the individual’s medical history and treatment goals with a healthcare provider [1]. Overall, it could be a suitable option, especially for those concerned about side effects like weight gain or sexual dysfunction associated with other antidepressants [10]. Still, healthcare providers must evaluate each patient’s unique situation to determine the appropriateness of Wellbutrin [10].

What are the downsides of Wellbutrin?

Wellbutrin, while effective in treating depression and potentially aiding weight loss, does have drawbacks. Common side effects include dry mouth, nausea, insomnia, and, in rare cases, seizures [10]. It may not be suitable for individuals with a history of seizures, eating disorders, or bipolar disorder, as it can exacerbate symptoms [10].

Some users may experience increased anxiety, agitation, or insomnia as side effects [1]. Additionally, Wellbutrin may not be as effective as other antidepressants, especially for those with significant anxiety symptoms [1]. Despite its benefits, it’s crucial to consider potential adverse effects when weighing treatment options [1].

Moreover, Wellbutrin may worsen conditions such as eating disorders and increase the risk of seizures in susceptible individuals [11]. Abrupt discontinuation can lead to withdrawal symptoms, underscoring the importance of tapering off under medical supervision [11].

Mental Health Help and Support

Wellbutrin stands as a valuable option in the treatment toolkit for depression and seasonal affective disorder, with additional benefits in smoking cessation. Its off-label uses have shown promise in effectively managing symptoms of other mental health conditions such as anxiety. While it may not be suitable for everyone and carries potential side effects, its unique mechanism of action and efficacy in some people make it a worthwhile consideration. As with any medication, consulting with a healthcare provider is crucial to determine the best course of treatment based on individual needs and medical history.

Ready to explore treatment options for depression or anxiety? Contact Neuro Wellness Spa today to schedule a consultation with our experienced healthcare providers. Take the first step towards improved mental health and well-being. Reach out now to learn more about our in-person and online psychiatrists as well as alternative treatments such as TMS therapy and start your journey towards a brighter tomorrow.


  1. American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, Inc. (2019). Bupropion. In AHFS Patient Medication Information. Retrieved March 1, 2024, from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a695033.html
  2. Berigan, T. R. (2002). The Many Uses of Bupropion and Bupropion Sustained Release (SR) in Adults. Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 4(1), 30–32. https://doi.org/10.4088/pcc.v04n0110a
  3. DrugBank. (2005, June 13). Buproprion. Retrieved from https://go.drugbank.com/drugs/DB01156
  4. Drugs.com. (n.d.). Does Wellbutrin XL/SR cause weight gain or loss? Retrieved from https://www.drugs.com/medical-answers/wellbutrin-xl-sr-weight-gain-loss-3557492/
  5. Dupar, L. (2023, January 20). Why and How Wellbutrin May Be an Effective Treatment for ADHD. ADDitude. Retrieved from https://www.additudemag.com/wellbutrin-for-adhd/
  6. Fava, M., Rush, A. J., Thase, M. E., Clayton, A., Stahl, S. M., Pradko, J. F., & Johnston, J. A. (2005). 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, 7(3), 106–113. https://doi.org/10.4088/pcc.v07n0305
  7. Huecker, M. R., Smiley, A., & Saadabadi, A. (2023). Bupropion. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470212/
  8. Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Antidepressants: Selecting one that’s right for you. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/antidepressants/art-20046273
  9. Poliacoff, Z., Belanger, H. G., & Winsberg, M. (2023). Does Bupropion Increase Anxiety?: A Naturalistic Study Over 12 Weeks. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, 43(2), 152–156. https://doi.org/10.1097/JCP.0000000000001658
  10. Stahl, S. M., Pradko, J. F., Haight, B. R., Modell, J. G., Rockett, C. B., & Learned-Coughlin, S. (2004). A Review of the Neuropharmacology of Bupropion, a Dual Norepinephrine and Dopamine Reuptake Inhibitor. Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 6(4), 159–166. https://doi.org/10.4088/pcc.v06n0403
  11. GlaxoSmithKline LLC. (2023). Wellbutrin (bupropion) (Package Insert). Retrieved from https://www.drugs.com/pro/wellbutrin.html
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