Depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and other related mental health issues were not always recognized in the medical community. Thankfully, patients today have options, such as therapy and antidepressants like Wellbutrin.
What Is Wellbutrin?
Wellbutrin is bupropion, an active ingredient that allows the brain to create necessary changes so people with depression can feel better.
MedlinePlus refers to Wellbutrin as a “mood elevator.” Its use requires a prescription and a diagnosis of depression or SAD. It can also be used to combat nicotine addiction.
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Wellbutrin is known to cause withdrawal symptoms. Even if you have no intention of misusing Wellbutrin, you may decide to keep taking it just to control withdrawal symptoms.
On September 2016, the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) reported on documentation of Wellbutrin abuse. They stated that it might be abused because the antidepressant is similar in structure to amphetamine.It does not affect the brain the same way, but CMAJ found that some people experienced a high that is similar to cocaine, though a bit weaker.
State of Wellbutrin Use
In an August 2017 report, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the following statistics about the use of antidepressants in the United States:
- They are in the top three most prescribed therapeutic medications today.
- Non-Hispanic whites are more likely to take antidepressants regardless of age or gender compared to other ethnicities.
- Roughly 25 percent of people who took antidepressants used them for 10 or more years.
- Prescriptions for antidepressants rose between 1999 to 2014.
- Between 2011 and 2014, people who were at least 12 years old used antidepressants at a rate of 12.7 percent.
Antidepressants were more likely to be used by women. The same CDC brief reports that:
- Women in every racial origin group were more likely to use antidepressants than men of their race.
- White non-Hispanic women were more likely to use antidepressants than women of other ethnic or racial groups.
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Risks vs. Benefits
As stated by MedlinePlus, the decision to take an antidepressant requires a thorough conversation with your caregiver. Understanding the benefits and risks is a must.
A better mood is an obvious positive, but Wellbutrin also comes with a few risks.
- People who have relatives with bipolar disorder or mania are at risk of feeling suicidal after they start taking it.
- The risk of suicidal ideation is higher for teenagers and young adults under the age of 24.
When used for medical reasons, it may take up to four weeks for Wellbutrin to have the desired effects on your mood. You should also watch for common side effects.
- Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
- Dry mouth
Severe side effects have also been reported.
- Dark-colored urine
- Panic attacks
- Rashes on the skin
- Pain on the chest
You should get medical assistance immediately if you experience these side effects.
Wellbutrin is one of the many antidepressants that works by changing the balance of certain hormones in your body. This change in balance is caused by how Wellbutrin causes your brain to increase levels of chemical messengers, or neurotransmitters.
One chemical messenger influenced by antidepressants is serotonin. This neurotransmitter is associated with helping you feel good. Taking antidepressants can increase your levels of this important hormone and make symptoms of depression more manageable.
But Wellbutrin also affects two other hormones.
A July 2016 paper published by Neuroscience and Behavioral Reviews explains that this hormone plays a role in stress reactions. It drives the dilation of pupils, blood vessel constriction, and other reactions to stress. It may also play a part in making decisions based on morality.
This is a chemical messenger that plays in role in repeating activities that help you feel good. Per Everyday Health, you may choose to take a second serving of food because this neurotransmitter lets your brain know the extra food makes you feel good.
The influence it has on dopamine levels makes Wellbutrin different from other antidepressants. Patients are known to experience withdrawal if they stop taking it, and this facilitates drug misuse and possible future addiction.
Additionally, Wellbutrin is often a part of an antidepressant “cocktail.” A cocktail is a group of drugs used to treat depression because your caregiver feels you will get more benefits from taking more than one medication at a time.
If you stop taking your entire cocktail, you may face additional symptoms of withdrawal at once.
The CDC’s studies mentioned that it is common for people to take antidepressants for 10 years or even indefinitely. This often happens because antidepressants are not a one-size-fits-all solution. Once you find something that works, it is normal to want to stick with it.
A few possible long-term effects of taking Wellbutrin may be:
- Withdrawal if you suddenly quit
- Changes in weight
- Seizures or trembling
Many patients think Wellbutrin will cause them to lose weight, but antidepressants can make you either gain or lose weight, depending on how they affect you.
Wellbutrin is sometimes known for causing a mild “high.” It can easily cause symptoms of withdrawal that make it easy for a person to misuse it.
Symptoms of withdrawal depend on whether or not you use Wellbutrin by itself or as part of a cocktail. Symptoms may include the following:
- Difficulty sleeping, including nightmares
- Mood swings
- Changes in appetite
- Vomiting and nausea
- Excessive sweating
- Brain shakes, similar to brain freeze
People who take Wellbutrin to quit smoking may suddenly crave tobacco or nicotine.
How Wellbutrin Misuse Starts
In 2014, the Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation journal mentions that Wellbutrin abuse is common in jails, though people outside of the criminal system are known to misuse it as well. This is because many prisons no longer use benzodiazepines to treat inmates.
Many prisons have now responded by not offering Wellbutrin and other bupropion-based antidepressants at their facilities.
In the general population, misuse of Wellbutrin often happens because people discover its mild high. Though not common, there are reports of athletes who use Wellbutrin to improve their energy levels.
The World Anti-Doping Association currently monitors its use in athletes.Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation reports that people may misuse Wellbutrin by:
- Taking it orally, perhaps in larger doses than directed
- Snorting it. This often requires a person to crush the pills into a fine powder. Taking Wellbutrin this way increases the likelihood of misuse because it causes the drug to be absorbed faster and results in a more intense high.
- Injecting it, which releases the contents of Wellbutrin even faster
- Smoking it, which is another quick way for Wellbutrin to affect you
- Further signs of misuse include “doctor shopping.”
Patients are known to visit different doctors and explain that they need more Wellbutrin for their symptoms of depression or to continue abstaining from nicotine.
Misusing Wellbutrin puts you at risk of seizures, especially if you use methods that deliver its effects much faster.
It is possible to overdose on this antidepressant, according to CMAJ.
Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation says prescribers can and should keep track of how patients are using Wellbutrin. They should make sure the patient has access to Wellbutrin if they truly are depressed, deal with SAD, or need it so they can quit using nicotine. They simply should monitor for signs of misuse.
Specific treatments for Wellbutrin misuse have not been reported, but the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) provides a few pointers based on their research of prescription opioid abuse. Not everything applies to Wellbutrin misuse. Below are things that could help:
- People who use Wellbutrin should taper their use in consultation with a doctor or professional.
- Treatment centers should offer a way to safely detox from Wellbutrin.
- Behavioral therapies are needed.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy can treat possible underlying causes of misuse and teach skills needed to avoid relapse.
- Group counseling can help to repair relationships that were damaged by drug use.
Finally, if you have misused Wellbutrin but have a diagnosis for depression or SAD, a physician can help you find an antidepressant that does not pose the same risks of misuse.
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(February 2018) Bupropion. MedlinePlus. Retrieved March 2019 from from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a695033.html
(February 2018) Depression. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved March 2019 from from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml
(September 2018) Will I Lose Weight on Wellbutrin? Verywell Fit. Retrieved March 2019 from from https://www.verywellfit.com/does-wellbutrin-cause-weight-loss-4100647
(September 2016) Bupropion abuse and overdose. Canadian Medical Association Journal. Retrieved March 2019 from from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4162783/
(August 2017) Antidepressant Use Among Persons Aged 12 and Over: United States, 2011–2014. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved March 2019 from from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db283.htm
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