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Wellbutrin Addiction: Signs, Symptoms And Treatment Options

Last Updated: December 16, 2021

Authored by Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Wellbutrin, also known as Bupropion, is a drug often utilized to assist people who are suffering from symptoms associated with depression or anxiety. It is also efficient in helping smokers to quit the dangerous habit. Off-label, the medication is also recommended for the treatment of ADHD, bipolar disorder, and obesity, as Wellbutrin and weight loss relation is well known as well. Wellbutrin addiction is not common, but it does occur.  Stats indicate that Wellbutrin abuse occurs in large doses and the most affected are patients with substance abuse and mood disorders. Taking alcohol while on Bupropion can lead to seizures. So, doctors recommend that patients should avoid alcohol while taking this drug.

Read on to discover the nature of Bupropion, its various brand names, formulations, uses, and recovery from Wellbutrin addiction.

What Is Wellbutrin?

Wellbutrin is a brand name for an antidepressant medication Bupropion that has been officially approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA first approved its use for the treatment of depression and some related mental health conditions in 1985. Since the approval of Wellbutrin pills as an antidepressant, the use of the medication has become prevalent in the United States, as well as other countries. Due to its abuse potential, Bupropion is believed to be a controlled substance, but it is not.

When looking at what exactly the Wellbutrin drug is, it is crucial to consider certain factors. One important question is, how does Wellbutrin work? Many patients think that Bupropion is part of the family of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI). So, is Wellbutrin an SSRI? No, Bupropion does not act in the same way as SSRI antidepressants. This medication is classified as an aminoketone class antidepressant. It means that Bupropion has an impact on other brain neurotransmitters. In particular, the use of Bupropion alters dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain of the patient.

What Is Wellbutrin.

Wellbutrin Generic And Brand Names

The drug is also known as Bupropion, which is the term used to reference the active ingredient contained in this antidepressant medication. This is also the name used to describe the generic form of the drug.

Except for the Most Common Brand Name, Wellbutrin, It Is Also Known by Names:

  • Forfivo XL
  • Zyban
  • Aplenzin
  • Budeprion XL and SR
  • Buproban
  • Wellbutrin SR and XL

Wellbutrin SR vs XL: Wellbutrin Dosage Range And Formulations

When it comes to looking at what Bupropion is, it is essential to consider the different formulations and dosages. Three main formulations are used for depression and related illnesses. Patients need to understand the difference between Wellbutrin XL, SR, and the basic option –  IR (immediate-release). While Wellbutrin side effects may be similar in both of these formulations, the way they work tend to differ.

Below Is An Overview Of Wellbutrin XL vs. SR vs. IR:

  • Wellbutrin XL: this is the extended-release form of the medication. It is generally taken once a day. Dose range from Bupropion HCL XL 150 up to around 450mg. The medication provides a gradual release of the active chemical into the patient’s body. In turn, this means the individual is not required to take multiple doses daily. This particular formulation may also be referred to as Bupropion HCL ER.
  • Wellbutrin SR: this is not an extended-release version like the XL formulation, but rather it is the sustained release version. This means the drug delivers the active chemicals at a more rapid rate into the person’s body. When a patient has been prescribed SR version, they will usually need to take the drug more than once a day. The Wellbutrin dosage comes in 100mg, 150mg, and 200mg. It is best to stay off the medicine for 14 days or 14 days after a patient has used an MAO inhibitor. Also, if a person has a seizure disorder, be sure to speak with a health professional before administering the drugs.
  • Wellbutrin IR: also known as Bupropion Hydrochloride, is the basic formulation of the drug. It does not last long compared to the XL and SR, so it needs to be taken two or three times per day depending on directions from a health professional. Its half-life is between 3 – 4 hours depending on the body’s metabolism. This Wellbutrin dosage comes in 100mg which can be taken twice daily, and 150mg which can be administered thrice daily. It is advisable to avoid taking more than one product that contains Bupropion and seek help immediately if a person ingest them.

It should be noted that Wellbutrin XL does not have a generic variety in the United States, but there may be a generic option available in other countries. There is, however, a generic Bupropion SR option available.

What Is Wellbutrin Used For?

Bupropion belongs to antidepressants, but the drug is neither an MAOI nor an SSRI. It is a norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitor (NDRI) that works by increasing the number of certain neurotransmitters in the brain which are responsible for good mood and a general feeling of well-being. This is why the use of Wellbutrin for anxiety, MDD, ADHD, and OCD is common.

However, it also has many other off-label uses, such as using this drug for smoking cessation:

Anxiety The use of Bupropion for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is proven to be as effective as an SSRI. According to a study carried out about the effectiveness of Bupropion vs. escitalopram (an SSRI) in treating generalized anxiety disorder, both medicines showed comparable efficacy and effectiveness. Bupropion may be considered a better choice in such conditions since it causes fewer side effects than an SSRI. Thus, the use of Wellbutrin for anxiety is effective in certain cases after assessment by a doctor.
ADHD The FDA hasn’t approved Wellbutrin for ADHD. However, patients who have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may benefit from the medicine. ADHD affects the brain by causing varying impulses of inattention and hyperactivity. Although the first line of treatment for ADHD is the use of stimulants, they have various unpleasant side effects and are controlled substances. Bupropion is proven to be effective in those cases without causing many unpleasant side effects. When using Wellbutrin for ADHD,  patients notice an improvement in their symptoms with their regular use. Similarly, the use of Bupropion for ADD (attention deficit disorder) is also quite effective.
Depression Wellbutrin for depression, depressive disorders, and seasonal depression was approved by the FDA. It works by inhibiting the reuptake of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine, both of which are responsible for improved focus, concentration, vigilance, cognition, and happiness. When their reuptake is inhibited, it increases the amount of both of these neurotransmitters in the brain, allowing for a good mood and happy feeling to be experienced by the patient.
Benefits of the use of Wellbutrin for depression include lesser side effects, and it is easily tolerated as compared to SSRIs and other antidepressants,
Smoking Cessation Apart from its on-label use for depression, the use of Zyban to stop smoking has also been researched and proven to be effective. It works by acting as an antagonist for nicotinic receptors. It prevents nicotine from binding with the receptors by blocking them, thus aiding in the process of smoking cessation. Its inhibition of the reuptake of the neurotransmitters also helps in creating a general feeling of well-being and a happy mood. Patients can feel decreased nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Their craving for nicotine also decreases.
Thus, patients can use this medicine to quit smoking as a supplementary medicine along with other cessation treatments. However, do not take Bupropion with alcohol as it can cause seizures.
Bipolar Disorder It is common to use Wellbutrin for bipolar treatment. This is because it has proven to be useful in treating bipolar depression and bipolar disorder in combination with certain other medicines.
Based on various tests carried out, Bupropion was effective in managing bipolar disorder and depression when used in combination with Idazoxan, Topiramate, Zoloft, and Venlafaxine. However, a placebo group was absent in this study, which warrants further research on the efficacy of Wellbutrin for bipolar disorder.
Weight Loss Antidepressants are mostly associated with weight gain as patients tend to gain a lot with their continued use. Unlike SSRIs, Bupropion is considered to be a medicine that does not cause weight gain. It is efficient to use Wellbutrin for weight loss. This is one of the benefits of the drug, in comparison to other antidepressants, that it does not increase one’s appetite. It controls it, and patients can identify when to stop eating so as not to eat in excessive amounts. However, using Wellbutrin for weight loss may not be effective in some patients. Bupropion may still cause weight gain, which should be checked on by the doctor.

These are not the only off-label uses of the drug. The drug can also be used in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, neuropathic pain, and social phobia. It is also effective in reducing cocaine cravings. However, caution should be exercised in administering the medication as it could result in serious health consequences. Patients who have a history of bulimia, seizures, anorexia nervosa, and major head injury are advised to stay off the medication. If the drug is ingested without appropriate supervision, then help should be sought immediately.

Wellbutrin Abuse Overview

Wellbutrin abuse is a growing health concern for clinicians and recovery centers. Known as the poor man’s cocaine, the drug can cause physical dependence and thus it is subject to abuse. Studies indicate that Wellbutrin abuse is especially common in correctional centers. There are several ways the drug can be abused including ingesting more than has been prescribed and using the medication as a stimulant. Abusing the drug reportedly leads to feeling euphoria  common to Сocaine ingestion but with low intensity. There are several adverse effects associated with the abuse of the medication including vertigo, seizures, and hallucinations. Abusers should seek help from recovery centers or medical doctors to avoid any complications.

Is Bupropion Addictive?

Bupropion is known to cause certain changes to the neurotransmitters in a person’s brain and mood, so is Wellbutrin addictive? Not exactly. This is because, though the drug’s activity of blocking dopamine uptake is similar to Сocaine and Amphetamines, it is not addictive. In an experiment, doses of Bupropion ranging from 50 mg – 400 mg did not produce the same effects compared to 5 mg – 10 mg of dextroamphetamine. However, Wellbutrin abuse can easily lead to addiction. This is because the medication can cause physical dependence which can slowly turn into addiction if it is taken in larger quantities. Patients are advised to stick to the prescription given by physicians to avoid overdosing. However, anyone who overdoses can report to a recovery center that houses all the resources to wean them off the drug.

Signs And Symptoms Of Bupropion Addiction

Abusing the medication comes with two types of associated symptoms; physical and psychological. Physical symptoms are pain and discomfort that are felt during the stage of addiction. Psychological symptoms, on the other hand, are signs of distress and a deviation from normal functioning indicative of mental pathology.

Physical Symptoms Of Bupropion Abuse

Abuse of the medication is accompanied by several physical signs. They come with some level of pain and discomfort. Some of these signs are visible and medical attention should be sought from a rehab center immediately they crop up.

Some of these symptoms include:

  • Muscle pain
  • Headaches
  • Tremors
  • Constipation
  • Joint pain
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Seizures
  • Loss of appetite
  • Excessive happiness
  • Decreased sex drive

Other physical signs indicate abuse of the drug. However, these are the most common. Abusers are advised to not attempt to treat these signs on their own. This may worsen the case. Instead, attend a recovery center that has adequate resources to treat these physical signs. People with a history of Cocaine use are also advised to exercise caution in administering this drug.

Psychological Signs of Bupropion Abuse

Abusers of the drug can also develop psychological symptoms. Some of these symptoms are not visible, thus, patients must be carefully monitored and observed to determine these signs. Any slight negative change in the behavior of the is indicative of a bigger problem. Help should be sought at a rehab center where resources are available to aid in recovery.

Here are some psychological symptoms that indicate Bupropion abuse:

  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Psychosis
  • Insomnia
  • Euphoria
  • A sudden increase in self-esteem
  • Finding ways to get multiple prescriptions of the drug

These symptoms are treatable, therefore, patients should report to the nearest rehab center with the right resources for assistance. Also, people who have had substance abuse problems in the past are more likely to abuse the drug. Thus, they should be closely monitored as they take Bupropion. To avoid the negative effects of abusing the drug, take it according to the doctor’s prescription.

Who Is Most At Risk Of Wellbutrin Addiction

Sometimes addiction can develop without the individual’s intention of abusing the drug. For example, after using the medication for a while, a person may tell their doctor that Wellbutrin stopped working. This happens when the body builds up a tolerance to Bupropion. The medication seems to become less effective each time a patient takes their daily dose. When a patient is constantly increasing their dose, they build up not only tolerance to the drug but also an addiction to the effects that the medication has on their brain. At the time they stop taking Bupropion, a patient starts to experience Wellbutrin withdrawal symptoms.

However, people who are most at risk of getting addicted to the drug are adults. In 2013, out of 95 cases of Bupropion exposure, 81 cases involved adults according to the BC Drug and Poison Information Center. There were 11 cases of older children and adolescents and three children were affected by unintentional exposure. So, this is a strong indication that the people who are most at risk of Bupropion abuse are adults. Also, people who are using Bupropion to curb their Cocaine addictions are prone to abusing Bupropion.

Wellbutrin Abuse Overview.

Dangers Of Wellbutrin Abuse

A person who starts to abuse Bupropion faces a large number of potential risks and consequences. Wellbutrin sexual side effects, along with all other adverse reactions associated with the use of the drug in general, will be worsened.

A person abusing the medicine also faces a higher risk of Bupropion overdose. This can be a dangerous situation where too much of the drug enters the bloodstream. Various symptoms may be experienced when a patient overdoses on the drug, whether that is by accident or on purpose. Some people may also experience Wellbutrin hair loss as a side-effect. One of the more severe signs that a person might have taken a lot of extra Bupropion can include seizures.

When a person starts to abuse Wellbutrin with the hopes of experiencing specific results, when injecting, for example, additional risks are faced. In such a case, there is a risk of damage to the blood vessels, the development of skin lesions, and other complications that can cause death in some cases. One should not consume alcohol while using the drug. This is because combining alcohol with Bupropion abuse can lead to serious health risks.

Wellbutrin Addiction Treatment

Individuals who suffer from Wellbutrin addiction will often require professional medical treatment from rehab centers to help that person overcome their substance abuse issues. Many locations can assist individuals who do suffer from an addiction to this antidepressant. It is, however, important that the right strategies are implemented and used to provide the individual with more successful results.

A rehab program can offer patients access to other outpatient treatment protocols or rather a residential addiction treatment plan. Some also encourage family members of the patient to be a part of the recovery process. The specific options that will be made available to the person depend on a few factors. The location visited will have an impact, as there are many centers that are only able to accommodate people through outpatient services. Furthermore, the severity of the person’s addiction to Bupropion may also have an impact on what the best protocol would be.

Detoxification usually forms the basis for this type of treatment. During this process, the patient is placed in an environment where they are unable to gain access to the drug. Careful medical supervision is provided. Sometimes, certain drugs that are known to help reduce the cravings for substances that a person has abused in the past may also be used, as for example Wellbutrin alternatives.

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Published on: July 5th, 2019

Updated on: December 16th, 2021

About Author

Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Dr. Ahmed Zayed is a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery. He is graduated from the University of Alexandria, Egypt. Dr. Ahmed Zayed has a passion for writing medical and health care articles and focuses on providing engaging and trustworthy information to readers.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.