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Bupropion (Wellbutrin) Uses in Addiction Recovery

June 17, 2022

Table of Contents

Bupropion, sold under the brand name Wellbutrin, is an antidepressant medication. The drug has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat the following:[1]

  • Major depressive disorder 
  • Seasonal affective disorder 
  • Smoking addiction/tobacco use disorder

If any of these issues complicate your recovery from alcohol or drug addiction, your therapist might add Wellbutrin to your treatment plan. 

Some doctors use Wellbutrin in an unauthorized (or off-label) capacity. Research suggests that Wellbutrin can help reduce cravings in people recovering from an addiction to methamphetamine.[2]

If your doctor uses bupropion in your addiction treatment plan, take it exactly as directed and report any side effects to your doctor. 

Wellbutrin Side Effects

Some people who take bupropion experience symptoms like dry mouth, agitation, nausea, and sleeplessness. These problems usually are the most obvious in the first days to weeks, and often fade as your body gets used to the drug. In very rare situations, Wellbutrin can increase risk for suicidality: People up to age 24 should be very careful about taking Wellbutrin. Young people can experience a spike in suicidal feelings while taking this medication.[3] In addition, Wellbutrin can lower a person’s seizure threshold so it is contraindicated in patients with a history of seizures or epilepsy.[4] 

Is Wellbutrin Addictive?

Not really, no. Wellbutrin acts in the brain and alters multiple chemicals including dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.[5] These same substances play a role in addiction. It is not thought to be “addicting” in the sense that people do not usually have cravings for it or a desire to use it more often or in excess of the way it is prescribed.[6] However, like many medications that build up in the body over time, patients may experience some withdrawal effects if they stop taking Wellbutrin too suddenly. These symptoms are not life threatening but can be uncomfortable, including mood changes, headaches, increased anxiety, etc. Therefore, if you have been on Wellbutrin for a long time, it is advisable to talk to your doctor about stopping it or weaning it slowly, to avoid any side effects. 

Bupropion in Addiction Treatment FAQs 

What is bupropion (Wellbutrin) used for?

Bupropion is an antidepressant medication that is used to treat major depressive disorder, seasonal affective disorder, and smoking addiction. Some doctors use it to help people with methamphetamine addiction too, although this is more experimental at this point. 

Is bupropion the same as Xanax?

Bupropion is an antidepressant medication. Xanax is a benzodiazepine medication. They do different things to your brain and body. They are different classes of medications, but can interact with each other if taken at the same time. 

Is bupropion good for anxiety?

Bupropion is not FDA-approved to treat anxiety disorders, however it does help some symptoms of anxiety and is often prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, depending on the individual. 

Can you drink on Wellbutrin?

Yes, but it is always advised to drink cautiously as multiple medications including alcohol can increase your risk of overdose.

Can you stop taking Wellbutrin cold turkey?

You should not stop taking Wellbutrin “cold turkey”. While withdrawal symptoms from Wellbutrin are not life threatening, they can be quite unpleasant if the medication is stopped too abruptly. We suggest coming off of Wellbutrin slowly, and with the advice and support of a doctor. 

Is bupropion a “stimulant” medication?

No - Bupropion (Wellbutrin) is an antidepressant medication. It is not a stimulant medication in that it does not act on stimulant receptors in the way that other stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine do. It does however have some “activating” properties that may make a person more alert or anxious, depending on the individual. 

Elena Hill, MD, MPH

Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where she works as a primary care physician as well as part time in pain management and integrated health. Her clinical interests include underserved health care, chronic pain and integrated/alternative health.

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Citations

  1. Bupropion (Wellbutrin). National Alliance on Mental Illness. https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Treatments/Mental-Health-Medications/Types-of-Medication/Bupropion-(Wellbutrin). December 2020. Accessed May 2022. 
  2. Bupropion Reduces Methamphetamine-Induced Subjective Effects and Cue-Induced Craving. Neuropsychopharmacology. https://www.nature.com/articles/1300979. November 2005. Accessed May 2022. 
  3. Bupropion. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a695033.html. February 2018. Accessed May 2022. 
  4. Bupropion. StatPearls. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470212/. May 2022. Accessed May 2022. 
  5. Bupropion Hydrochloride. National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/bupropion-hydrochloride. Accessed May 2022. 
  6. Bupropion Abuse and Overdose. CMAJ. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4162783/. September 2014. Accessed May 2022. 

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