Wellbutrin for Anxiety: What You Should Know

  • Anxiety disorders affect millions of people across the U.S., and Wellbutrin is a possible treatment option.

  • There are three different types of Wellbutrin with a range of FDA-approved and off-label uses.

  • Like any other anxiety medication, Wellbutrin has side effects. However, these side effects can often be avoided through careful planning.

  • Wellbutrin may not be a treatment option for certain individuals living with anxiety. There are, however, alternative anxiety treatments to explore.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), around 40 million U.S. adults are living with anxiety disorders, with less than 40% receiving the treatment they need.

People living with anxiety may require frequent doctors’ visits and are also at higher risk of being hospitalized with psychiatric disorders than those who do not suffer from anxiety.

Increased exercise, a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and lifestyle changes that decrease stress can help people living with anxiety, but there are also various therapies and medications that can be used.

In this article, we’ll look at Wellbutrin, how it can be used to treat anxiety, its benefits as well as its side effects, and how to mitigate these side effects.

What is Wellbutrin?

Wellbutrin is a brand name for the antidepressant known as bupropion hydrochloride. The drug belongs to the aminoketone class and should be administered orally. Wellbutrin is not available over-the-counter in the U.S.; it can only be obtained with a doctor's prescription.

Key Point: What is an Aminoketone?

Aminoketone is the name given to a class of oral antidepressant medication used to manage the symptoms of severe depression and smoking cessation.

Wellbutrin is available in three different formulations, namely:

  • Wellbutrin
  • Wellbutrin SR
  • Wellbutrin XL

What is the Difference Between Wellbutrin, Wellbutrin SR, and Wellbutrin XL?

Wellbutrin, Wellbutrin SR, and Wellbutrin XL all contain bupropion as their active ingredient.

The daily dosages for all versions of Wellbutrin will depend on the individual and their reason for taking the medication.

Wellbutrin: The regular formulation of Wellbutrin is an immediate-release antidepressant. Shortly after administration, the effects of Wellbutrin can be felt, and it is typically used to treat major depressive disorder (MDD). Individuals usually start with 100 mg twice a day.

Wellbutrin SR: Wellbutrin SR is a sustained-release version. The body is able to absorb Wellbutrin SR more quickly than its XL counterpart, and it is typically taken twice a day. It is used to treat depression and the symptoms of smoking withdrawal. It is available in 100 mg, 150 mg, and 200 mg.

Wellbutrin XL: Wellbutrin XL is the extended-release version that is absorbed more slowly, meaning individuals require fewer doses (generally one per day). Those taking Wellbutrin XL may experience less side effects than those on Wellbutrin SR. Typically used to treat depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), Wellbutrin XL is available in 150 mg and 300 mg.

A bottle of wellbutrin pills.

How Does Wellbutrin Work?

Wellbutrin affects the way neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) are used and produced in the body.

Those suffering from disorders that lower the levels of neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and dopamine — for example, in depression — can benefit from using Wellbutrin as it prevents the brain from reabsorbing these neurotransmitters, thereby increasing their levels in the body and alleviating symptoms.

Wellbutrin is released differently depending on which version is used. For example, the standard version of Wellbutrin works immediately, while the XL absorbs more slowly, releasing the medication over an extended time period.

Some effects of Wellbutrin may only be felt after a few weeks, which is why doctors commonly prescribe it for several months.

What is Wellbutrin Used For?

Since 1985, the drug bupropion has been FDA-approved, but only for the treatment of depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and as an aid for quitting smoking.

There are several non-FDA approved uses of Wellbutrin including the treatment of ADHD symptoms, obesity, and anxiety.

Here are some of the uses for Wellbutrin:

FDA-Approved Uses

  • Adult depression
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
  • Smoking cessation

Off-label or Non-FDA Approved Uses

  • Anxiety (especially generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder)
  • Sexual dysfunction induced by antidepressants
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Depression linked to bipolar disorder or obesity
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Can Wellbutrin Be Used for Treating Anxiety?

Wellbutrin might be an effective treatment for anxiety, but this is one of the medication’s off-label uses. Those who are diagnosed with depression and experience anxiety as a side effect may experience positive results when using Wellbutrin for treating their anxiety.

While the FDA has not approved Wellbutrin as an anxiety medication, a licensed doctor may give you a prescription for Wellbutrin to treat your anxiety.

Can Wellbutrin Cause Anxiety?

As we’ve covered, one of the listed side effects of Wellbutrin is anxiety.

If Wellbutrin is used to treat depression or the symptoms of smoking cessation, it may cause feelings of anxiety in those who have recently started taking the drug. However, a 2016 study on bupropion found anxiety to be one of the medication’s rarest side effects.

It’s important to be aware of potential side effects with all medications, including Wellbutrin. Be sure to disclose any other medications you are using with your doctor before starting Wellbutrin.

Key Point: How Can I Alleviate the Anxiety Symptoms Linked to Wellbutrin Use?

If you experience anxiety as a side effect of Wellbutrin, you can try:

  • Asking your doctor to adjust your dosage or the type of Wellbutrin you are taking
  • Getting a prescription for a different medication
  • Adding exercise and other anxiety-relieving habits to your routine

What Are the Benefits of Wellbutrin?

There are many reasons you may want to start taking Wellbutrin. These may include:

  • Treating depression and SAD
  • Easing smoking withdrawal symptoms
  • Treating numerous other conditions, including anxiety and PTSD
  • Enjoying minimal sex-related side effects and problems from long-term use

What Are the Side Effects of Wellbutrin?

Before starting any new medication you should discuss any concerns and questions with your doctor.

Once you’ve started taking Wellbutrin, pay attention to how your body responds and note any changes.

Here are some of the side effects associated with Wellbutrin:

Common Side Effects:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Headache
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea

Rare Side Effects:

  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Seizures
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Delusions and paranoia
  • High blood pressure
  • Severe allergic reactions
  • Manic episodes
  • Eye problems
Key Point: What Are the Risk Factors Associated with Seizures and Wellbutrin?

Below are a few factors that increase your chances of having a seizure while using Wellbutrin:

  • A high dosage of Wellbutrin
  • A brain injury or tumor
  • Liver diseases
  • Eating disorders
  • Drug or alcohol dependence
  • Medicines that may induce seizures

How Can I Avoid Wellbutrin’s Side Effects?

The potential side effects of Wellbutrin may seem daunting but the following tips can help you steer clear of them:

  • Use your medication as directed by your prescribing physician.
  • Disclose all existing conditions and the medications (both prescription and OTC) that you’re taking to your doctor.
  • Ask questions and discuss concerns with your doctor.
  • Avoid alcohol and high-risk activities.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Consult your doctor before adjusting the dose or discontinuing Wellbutrin.

What Are Some Myths About Wellbutrin?

There are a few misconceptions about Wellbutrin and the potential side effects it might have on you. Be sure to speak to a doctor about your concerns.

Myths about Wellbutrin include:

  • Wellbutrin will cause anxiety: Anxiety is one of the medication’s rarest side effects.
  • Wellbutrin poses a high seizure risk: Seizures are also among Wellbutrin’s rare side effects, and there are risk factors associated with it.
  • People with insomnia shouldn’t use it: Most antidepressants cause sleep disturbances, and the risk of losing sleep with Wellbutrin is about the same as any other antidepressant.

Who Should Use Wellbutrin to Treat Anxiety?

People who are suffering from anxiety associated with depression may respond well to Wellbutrin.

It may also be prescribed to individuals who are struggling with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and those who experience anxiety due to panic disorder (PD).

When Should Wellbutrin Not Be Used for Treating Anxiety?

There are certain circumstances when Wellbutrin should not be used for treating anxiety. Do not use this drug if you:

  • Have a history of seizures
  • Have an eating disorder
  • Have used a monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitor in the last 14 days, e.g. linezolid or rasagiline
  • Have recently stopped drinking
  • Have recently stopped using sedatives and/or seizure medication Currently use Zyban for smoking cessation

Be sure to consult your doctor if you experience any side effects while using Wellbutrin for anxiety.

What Happens If I Have a Bad Reaction to Wellbutrin?

In the unlikely event of an allergic reaction to Wellbutrin, seek urgent medical attention.

Signs of an allergic reaction include:

  • Fever
  • Itching
  • Hives
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Weak or rapid pulse
  • Burning eyes
  • Pain
  • Skin rashes, blisters, or peeling
  • Dizziness
  • Low blood pressure

Get in touch with your primary healthcare provider if you exhibit serious side effects, such as breathing difficulties or severe pain.

In the unlikely event of an extreme allergic reaction, such as anaphylaxis, seek emergency medical attention immediately.

What Are Some Alternative Treatments for Anxiety?

If you’re unable to use Wellbutrin for anxiety or you’d like to explore some alternative treatment options, take a look at the list below.

There is no single cure or treatment for anxiety disorders and you may require a combination of therapies to help you.

A few alternative anxiety disorder treatments to explore, include:

  • Therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
  • Medication, such as other antidepressants
  • Beta-blockers
  • Support groups
  • Stress management practices, such as regular meditation, mindfulness, and exercise
  • Practicing self-care
Key Point: Should I Get Treatment for Anxiety?

There are times when the symptoms of anxiety are similar to those associated with other underlying medical conditions.

If you are feeling unusually stressed or anxious, schedule a doctor’s appointment to rule out more serious health conditions or to get treatment for anxiety.

Where Can I Learn More about Anxiety and Wellbutrin?

Though anxiety is one of the potential side effects of Wellbutrin, the drug may alleviate anxiety in certain individuals and can be prescribed by a healthcare provider.

If you're experiencing symptoms of anxiety or are looking to renew your prescription, you can meet with a board-certified doctor or nurse practitioner from your smartphone, computer, or tablet. Visit LifeMD to make your first appointment.

Dr. Anthony Puopolo

Dr. Puopolo holds a B.A. in Biology from Tufts University, M.A. in Biology from Boston University, and Doctor of Medicine from the Boston University School of Medicine. He also completed a Family Medicine and Psychiatry residency program in the U.S. Army.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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