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Wellbutrin Side Effects, Symptoms of Abuse, and Addiction Treatment

What Is Wellbutrin Used For?

Bupropion (Wellbutrin, Aplenzin, Zyban) is a drug that is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat depression and seasonal affective disorder, as well as to help people stop smoking.1 Doctors also frequently prescribe bupropion to patients to treat other “off-label” conditions, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, sexual problems, and obesity.2

How Does Wellbutrin Work?

Bupropion is classified as an antidepressant, but it works differently from other commonly used antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs, e.g. Zoloft and Prozac) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs, e.g. Effexor and Cymbalta). Bupropion increases levels of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain but has no effects on serotonin.2

Although bupropion is not typically the first option for treating depression, most studies have shown that it is equally effective as the most popularly prescribed class of antidepressants—SSRIs.3 Unlike SSRIs, bupropion does not produce side effects like sexual dysfunction or weight gain, and it can be added to SSRI therapy in patients with depression who do not respond to standard therapy.3 Because of these properties, some experts have suggested that this drug can be a safe and effective tool for treating a variety of disorders, from social phobia to neuropathic pain.4 However, despite all of the potential therapeutic effects of bupropion, there has been some evidence of this drug being abused.2

Bupropion (Wellbutrin) Abuse

Bupropion’s versatility in treating depressive disorders and its successful track record as a smoking cessation aid make this drug a valuable tool to help patients live happier, healthier lives. Initial research in humans suggested that bupropion has a low potential for abuse.2 This combination of safety and effectiveness led some to refer to bupropion as a “wonder drug,” but the reality has turned out to be somewhat more complicated.5

The effects of bupropion on dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain overlap with those of illicit stimulants such as cocaine.2 Animal experiments using bupropion also suggested that it had addictive potential.6 Concerns about possible abuse increased when individuals began posting accounts of bupropion abuse on the website, starting in 2001,7 and the first medical report on a case of recreational bupropion use appeared in 2002.8

Although the effects of non-medical Wellbutrin use have not been well studied, bupropion appears capable of producing stimulant-like effects if it is taken in doses far higher than those prescribed for medical purposes.2,6 The maximum daily recommended dose of bupropion is 450 mg, but reported cases of abuse have involved ingesting between 600 mg8 and 1200 mg of the drug.2

Most bupropion abusers take this drug by crushing and snorting (insufflating) the pills. This route of ingestion delivers a high dose of bupropion directly to the bloodstream and defeats the slow-release mechanism built in to some types of bupropion tablets (e.g. Wellbutrin XL, Forfivo XL, Aplenzin).2,5 Other reported methods of Wellbutrin abuse include taking more pills than prescribed and even dissolving pills in water and then injecting the solution.2

Signs and Symptoms of Wellbutrin Abuse

Individuals who’ve abused this drug have described the Wellbutrin high as similar to that of stimulants such as cocaine or amphetamine.2,5,7 In at least one case, a man complained of hearing multiple voices and told clinic staff that the voices started when he began abusing bupropion.6

Some other common signs and symptoms of stimulant abuse include:10

  • Euphoria.
  • Sense of exhilaration.
  • Increased sense of self-esteem.
  • Heightened energy and activity.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Long periods of wakefulness/insomnia.

In addition to displaying the physical effects of stimulant abuse while high, Wellbutrin abusers may also engage in unusual behaviors connected to obtaining the drug or hiding use from others. These may include requesting Wellbutrin specifically from a physician despite never being prescribed the drug previously or obtaining multiple prescriptions from different doctors (doctor shopping).

Wellbutrin Side Effects

Insomnia as a potential sign on Wellbutrin Abuse

Abuse of Wellbutrin can lead to dangerous side effects. Many cases of bupropion overdose have been documented, including those which were due to intentional abuse, suicide attempts, and accidental poisoning.7 The common effects of Wellbutrin overdose include profound:6,7

  • Agitation.
  • Vertigo.
  • Involuntary muscle contractions.
  • Tachycardia, or rapid heart rate.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Seizures.

The higher the dose of bupropion that is ingested, the more likely seizures are to occur, making this an especially dangerous side effect for abusers.2 Wellbutrin overdose has been known to be fatal in some cases.7,13

Injection use is particularly risky. Because many of the ingredients in bupropion pills were not intended to be injected, abusing the drug intravenously can lead to severe side effects, such as skin lesions, blood vessel damage, and even death.7

In addition to the physical risk of abusing bupropion, some abusers have experienced Wellbutrin withdrawal symptoms when they stopped taking the drug, such as irritability and depressed mood.2

Like with any other potentially addictive drug, abusers may begin prioritizing obtaining and using this substance over other important aspects of their life, such as fulfilling work responsibilities or maintaining relationships with family and friends.

Bupropion Use Statistics

Few official statistics exist regarding bupropion use because antidepressants are not included in most surveys of drug abuse. However, there has been increasing evidence that abuse of this drug has spread in the last decade.

Effects of Bupropion Abuse includes agitation

Consider that:

  • Some U.S. correctional facilities have stopped dispensing bupropion to inmates due to high levels of abuse among inmates, among whom the pills are referred to as “Wellies,” “Dubs,” or “Barnies.”14
  • A study in Ontario, Canada found a 10-fold increase in suspicious prescriptions flagged for possible abuse or black market sale between 2000 and 2013.12 These suspicious prescriptions totaled about 48,000 pills in 2013.
  • Multiple anecdotal cases have been published in which individuals report cocaine-like effects and euphoria from abusing bupropion.2

Teen Wellbutrin Abuse

The first published medical report of bupropion abuse in 2002 described a 13-year old girl who intentionally ingested 4 tablets (600 mg total) in an attempt to get high.8

There have been other reported cases of teenagers abusing bupropion by crushing and taking tablets stolen from parents.6 While the extent of bupropion abuse among adolescents is unknown, it is clear that it does occur.

Many adolescents believe that abusing prescription medications is safer than experimenting with illicit substances. It is important to discuss the dangers of abusing medicines like bupropion with teenagers so that they understand that these drugs can be just as deadly as street drugs. This is especially important today because many medications are easily obtainable from online “no-prescription websites”2 or friends who have valid prescriptions. Learn more about teen drug misuse.

How to Stop Taking Wellbutrin

If you or a loved one is struggling with stopping Wellbutrin use, help is available and recovery is possible. Professional addiction treatment can start anyone battling a substance use problem on the path to a happier and healthier life. Rehab programs are located throughout the U.S. and may offer short-term detox, inpatient rehab, or outpatient rehabilitation. You can use SAMHSA’s Behavioral Services Locator to search for treatment centers. Many state government websites will also provide local drug and alcohol resources to those in need. To find your state government’s website, do a web search for your state name and ‘.gov.’ Once your state website is located, substance use resources shouldn’t be hard to find, and they should provide further phone contacts for your assistance.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of addiction treatment programs and has trusted facilities across the country. To learn more about rehab programs and treatment options with AAC, please contact one of our caring admissions navigators free at .

Resources, Articles, and More Information

For more information, see the following articles:

Wellbutrin Addiction Treatment Levels of Care

Recommended Wellbutrin Rehab-Related Articles

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