Wellbutrin (Bupropion) is a drug that is used for the treatment of depression as well as to help people quit smoking. It has become a very popular medication to treat depression because it is considered to have a minimal side effect profile compared to many other drugs. Wellbutrin is not associated with weight gain, a loss of sex drive, and loss of energy like many other antidepressants. It works as a norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitor (NDRI) as opposed to most conventional antidepressants which target serotonin.
It has become a popular off-label treatment option for chronic fatigue, sexual dysfunction, and weight loss. It is also considered a popular antidepressant augmentation strategy when used in conjunction with an SSRI. The only major side effect associated with this drug is an increase in risk of having a seizure. The medication also operates as a nicotonic receptor agonist – which explains why it helps people quit smoking. In some cases, it is even used for the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (read more: Wellbutrin for ADHD).
Since this drug has such a low side effect profile compared to many other medications, many people try it first before SSRI’s. Although this drug has been used by many people, not everyone has a positive reaction to the drug. Others that are on it for awhile may want to come off of it and experience life naturally without the influence of an antidepressant. If you plan on withdrawing, it is important to be aware of the potential symptoms that you may experience.
Factors that influence Wellbutrin withdrawal include
As with any drug, there are various factors that are thought to influence the withdrawal process. The amount of time that you took the drug, the dosage that you took, your individual physiology, and whether you tapered all can influence the time it takes for you to recover back to “normal.”
1. Time Span
How long were you taking Wellbutrin? If you were only on it for a few weeks, you may be able to quit cold turkey without any major withdrawal symptoms. On the other hand, if you were on this drug for over a year or many years, the withdrawal process will likely be more difficult. Generally the longer you are on this medication, the more gradually you should taper off of it to minimize with withdrawal effects.
2. Dosage (100 mg, 150 mg, 300 mg) + Subtype (IR, SR, XL)
The dose that you took of Wellbutrin can be significant when it comes to withdrawal. If you were on the highest possible dose, you are going to need to conduct a gradual taper to avoid most withdrawal effects. Besides the dose, you also need to recognize that there are a few different subtypes of this medication:
- Wellbutrin IR (Immediate Release)
- Wellbutrin SR (Sustained Release)
- Wellbutrin XL (Extended Release)
The “IR” version stands for “immediate release” – these tend to be shorter acting than the other two subtypes. The “SR” version is “sustained release” and typically is taken twice throughout the day, while the “XL” version is “extended release” and only taken once a day. It is generally going to be easier to come off of the SR version because you can simply reduce the pills.
3. Cold turkey vs. Tapering
It is always recommended to conduct a gradual taper off of Wellbutrin to minimize withdrawal symptoms. Most people conduct a gradual taper by reducing their dosage 25 mg to 50 mg every 2 weeks. If you are on the XL version, the pill only comes in doses of 150 mg and 300 mg. Since you cannot simply “cut” the extended release version, you may want to switch over to the IR (immediate-release) to conduct a proper taper. If you notice a significant amount of withdrawal symptoms, taper at a slower rate.
Unless you have been taking Wellbutrin for a very short period of time, it is never recommended to quit “cold turkey.” Many people have simply quit “cold turkey” without any major side effects – including myself, but many people have experienced exacerbated withdrawals because they did not taper. It’s usually best to err on the side of caution and gradually wean yourself off of Wellbutrin.
4. Individual Physiology
It is important to point out that everyone reacts differently to these medications. Your nervous system, your environment, and your social support will all play a role in helping you through withdrawal. Believe it or not, there are people out there who barely even notice when they stop taking Wellbutrin because they exhibit “zero withdrawal” symptoms.
Yet there are other people who haven’t even taken the medication for a long term period and they exhibit very difficult withdrawal symptoms. Understand that everyone is different and you can’t really compare your journey through withdrawal with that of another person.
Wellbutrin Withdrawal Symptoms
Since everyone has a unique experience in regards to drug withdrawal, symptoms are subject to variation. Some people may experience anxiety and lethargy, while others may experience crying spells and body aches. You may experience everything on this list, a few symptoms, or nothing at all. This is just a collective of symptoms that have been reported during withdrawal from Wellbutrin.
- Anger: Many people experience anger and sometimes “rage” when they quit taking this medication. I remember when I stopped taking it I felt pretty angry and more impulsive than I usually do. If you have become crabby within the first week of stopping this drug, it is likely a result of the withdrawal.
- Anxiety: Some people become pretty anxious when they stop taking Wellbutrin. In most cases while on this medication, anxiety tends to increase. However, some people also experience an increase when coming off of it. Although an anxious response upon withdrawal may seem counterintuitive, it’s very possible.
- Body aches: It is pretty common to experience general muscle aches and pains throughout the body when coming off of Wellbutrin. These may be uncomfortable for a few days, but will eventually subside. If they are difficult to deal with, make sure you are getting plenty of rest, water, and consider taking some over-the-counter pain relief.
- Crying spells: You may want to cry all day when you first stop taking this medication. This is because your emotions are running rampant and your depression may have come back full force. In fact the depression that you experience during withdrawal may be even more severe than before you started the drug. Realize that the crying is normal to experience during withdrawal.
- Depersonalization: While taking this drug you may feel “depersonalized” or unlike yourself. When you stop taking it, you may continue to experience this symptom. It will eventually go away. If you panic about feeling this way, it may continue to make it worse.
- Depression: Many people feel good on the Wellbutrin and when they quit taking it, their depression rears its ugly head again. Realize that withdrawal from any medication is going to result in depression – usually pretty severe. This is because your neurotransmitter levels have not stabilized. Some people mistakenly think their depression is “worse” after the medication when really it’s a result of a chemical imbalance caused by withdrawal.
- Dizziness: Nearly all antidepressant withdrawals are associated with feelings of dizziness. If you feel dizzy when coming off of this drug, you are not alone. Most people experience some sort of dizziness and in some cases vertigo as a result of their withdrawal. This is just a sign that your body was expecting the drug and it is no longer receiving it so it reacts by making you dizzy.
- Fatigue: Since this medication has a stimulating effect and tends to give people a lot of energy, it is common to experience fatigue, lethargy, and sleepiness when someone quits this drug. For most people, the fatigue will subside within a few weeks. This is because this drug was inhibiting dopamine reuptake and norepinephrine – now you no longer have that going on.
- Headaches: During withdrawal, many people report feeling headaches – some to the point of migraines. If you are struggling with a withdrawal headache, the best thing you can do for yourself is rest, drink plenty of water, and relax.
- Increased appetite: Being on this medication tends to make people have less of an appetite. When they quit taking it, their appetite returns to normal and they eat more. This is associated with a weight gain that people experience when they quit Bupropion.
- Insomnia: Although most people experience insomnia while on Wellbutrin, it is also possible to experience it while coming off of the drug. During any withdrawal, your body and brain are trying to restore normal function without the drug. Therefore you may have difficulty falling asleep at night.
- Irritability: Many people become irritable when they come off of an antidepressant. Wellbutrin tends to do a great job at making people feel less depressed and more energetic. When you take away the antidepressant effect and reduce a person’s energy, they may become irritable.
- Lack of coordination: During the withdrawal period, your coordination may become “off” and you may have difficulties performing tasks. Not everyone experiences this, but if you notice that your coordination seems off, you may want to stay away from heavy machinery and/or driving until it returns.
- Libido changes: Some people report that their libido decreases during withdrawal from Wellbutrin. This is due to the fact that while they were on the medication, it actually increased their sex drive – in some cases to the point of “hypersexuality.” When quitting this medication, you may notice a temporary drop in sexual interest.
- Nausea: Many people report feeling nauseated when they quit taking Wellbutrin. This goes hand-in-hand with vomiting that people experience. The nausea may become so extreme that it causes a person to throw up. This symptom may last for awhile before you feel less nauseated.
- Seizures: One tricky symptom that needs to be highlighted is that of seizures. If you are susceptible to seizures, you should have never taken this medication in the first place. Anyways some people end up taking this medication for awhile, withdraw too quickly and experience seizures. Although these aren’t common, they do happen which is why you should always withdraw gradually with caution.
- Vomiting: It has been reported that some people end up vomiting during their withdrawal process. This is simply a natural reaction to the body trying to respond to no longer having the drug for functioning.
- Weight gain: Wellbutrin is an antidepressant that causes weight loss in many people that take it. It does this by speeding up the body’s natural metabolic response while simultaneously decreasing appetite. It has a stimulating effect for most people which also promotes activity. When people quit, their metabolism returns to a baseline, their full appetite returns, and they may become lethargic – a recipe for weight gain.
Note: It is understood that Wellbutrin stays in your system for days after your last dose. The bupropion itself is eliminated usually within 5 days, but its active metabolites can take up to 10 days for elimination. For this reason, discontinuation symptoms may become most noticeable after being drug-free for 5-10 days.
How long does Wellbutrin withdrawal last?
For most people, the withdrawal symptoms will depend on how long they took Wellbutrin and how quickly they tapered off of it. It can be difficult for someone who has been on this medication for years to come off of it without experiencing significant withdrawal symptoms. For other individuals the withdrawal process is very minimal and may last just a few days before the majority of symptoms subside. It is common to report withdrawal symptoms lasting up to 8 full weeks following their last dose of Wellbutrin.
Some individuals have experienced symptoms that persist for up to 90 days (3 months) following their last dose of this drug – this is evidence that everyone recovers at a different pace. I personally have been on this medication and for me it was among the easiest antidepressants to withdraw from. Although for me there were withdrawal symptoms, they were nothing compared to my experience quitting Paxil cold turkey and withdrawal from other SSRI’s. Keep in mind that everyone is different and may experience different reactions.
One person that has been on the drug for years and decides to quit may exhibit discontinuation symptoms for months following their last dose of Wellbutrin. In order to speed up the withdrawal process and eradicate any symptoms you are experiencing, it is recommended to engage in healthy activities that promote recovery. Make sure you are getting plenty of exercise, eating a healthy diet, and getting outside for some sunlight. Do your best to socialize with friends and family, and stay as productive as you can. For most individuals, they will return to normal mental functioning within a couple of weeks.