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Like heading on vacation to explore a new city, dealing with a mood disorder like depression is a journey. Unfortunately, that’s one of the few similarities between a vacation and depression.
While you have a timeline and end destination on your trip, a depressive disorder can be a long-winding road full of changes and trial-and-error.
Stopping antidepressant medication treatment is one example of change. You may want to stop taking the medication because you’re having serious side effects. Or you might be feeling a lot better and don’t think you need it anymore (in which case, that’s great news!).
And while this is all in the name of feeling better, completely stopping an antidepressant comes with withdrawal symptoms.
One example? Bupropion (Wellbutrin XL®), an FDA-approved prescription drug for depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), can cause withdrawal symptoms if stopped abruptly. Wellbutrin withdrawal symptoms are different from the typical bupropion side effects, though.
And just like doing research before your vacation makes for a better trip, knowing about bupropion withdrawal symptoms and how to cope may help you in your mental health and antidepressant medication journey.
Many people stop taking Wellbutrin for various reasons — experiencing adverse side effects, switching to a different medication or having no noticeable improvements.
It’s important to talk to your healthcare provider first before stopping Wellbutrin. They can discuss bupropion withdrawal symptoms, suggest a Wellbutrin taper schedule and offer other bupropion-related medical advice.
Here’s what to keep in mind when considering stopping bupropion:
As mentioned above, bupropion is prescribed for major depressive disorder (MDD) and seasonal affective disorder, among other depressive disorders. Sold under the brand names Wellbutrin® and Zyban®, this medication can also be used for smoking cessation or quitting smoking.
Bupropion is an antidepressant that belongs to a class of drugs called norepinephrine–dopamine reuptake inhibitors, or NDRIs. The long name refers to how the medication works. We have different brain chemicals — called neurotransmitters — responsible for controlling our moods, level of alertness and other functions. Different antidepressant medications are thought to alter the levels of these chemicals. Bupropion and other NDRIs affect the chemicals norepinephrine and dopamine.
Just like any medication, bupropion does come with side effects — especially if you suddenly stop taking it. Wellbutrin withdrawal symptoms can include flu-like symptoms, changes in mood, anxiety, difficulty sleeping and digestion issues.
Bupropion withdrawal symptoms usually start a day or two after stopping the medication and last one or two weeks, although they may continue for a year.
Bupropion may be less likely to cause side effects because the medication doesn’t change your serotonin levels — which are thought to be connected to withdrawal symptoms.
Keep reading for a deeper dive into what to expect from Wellbutrin withdrawal symptoms, as well as how to stop taking Wellbutrin.
Different medications do different things to treat different symptoms. So, just like the unique depression symptoms you experience, your response to treatments can vary — which is perfectly okay and usual!
And when it comes to bupropion withdrawal, discontinuation symptoms can also vary. These symptoms are known as antidepressant discontinuation syndrome.
Symptoms of antidepressant discontinuation syndrome can include:
Flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, headaches and sweating
Difficulty sleeping, insomnia (trouble falling asleep), nightmares and unusual dreams
Nausea or vomiting
Dizziness or lightheadedness
Irritability, agitation or aggression
Electric shock-like experiences in the brain, known as “brain zaps”
You might be wondering, Will I experience withdrawal symptoms? Withdrawal symptoms can occur with any antidepressant — including bupropion.
Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome can happen to about 20 percent of people who abruptly stop taking their medication (also known as going “cold turkey”).
Although it would be nice to know exactly when withdrawal symptoms start and stop, it varies from person to person (convenient, we know).
But luckily, there’s enough data out there to give us a general timeline of what you might expect. A typical bupropion withdrawal timeline can look like this:
If you’ve been taking medication continuously for one month and then stop, you may start experiencing bupropion-associated withdrawal symptoms.
Two to four days after stopping the medication, you’d start to experience withdrawal symptoms.
Fortunately, withdrawal symptoms are generally mild and last one to two weeks. On occasion, they could last up to a year.
If you restart taking bupropion or take a similar drug, the withdrawal symptoms could go away within one to three days.
You might associate withdrawal with addiction or drug abuse, but experiencing withdrawal symptoms doesn’t mean you’re experiencing a Wellbutrin addiction. Though experts aren’t entirely sure why withdrawal symptoms happen, it could have to do with how the medication works.
Bupropion increases the amount of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine that circulates in your brain. By upping the levels of these neurotransmitters, bupropion can help alleviate depression symptoms and make it easier to deal with nicotine cravings.
Your brain may adapt to the medication, but when the levels quickly change — for example, when you go cold turkey — it may feel uncomfortable as your brain and body adjust.
Many of the withdrawal effects mentioned above are related to serotonin — a neurotransmitter affected by selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) and other antidepressants.
Since bupropion doesn’t change your serotonin levels, it may be less likely to cause many of the side effects listed above. However, you might still experience certain withdrawal symptoms if you abruptly stop using bupropion.
But how do you stop taking bupropion? What’s the best way to wean off Wellbutrin? Keep reading for answers.
So, now you know all about bupropion and the withdrawal symptoms — don’t you feel smarter already? But maybe you’re currently taking bupropion and want to stop. What should you do?
First things first: Talk to your healthcare provider before you make any sudden changes to your usage of this medication.
They’ll likely recommend slowly tapering down your dosage of bupropion to prevent you from experiencing withdrawal symptoms. This means taking a slightly lower dosage of bupropion as each week passes until you can safely stop using the medication altogether.
There’s no one optimal schedule everyone can follow for how to taper off Wellbutrin. A short-term bupropion user may taper their dosage faster than someone who’s taken bupropion for years. Your provider will take into account various factors, like your mental health history, other antidepressants or medications you’re taking and your physical health.
Whether you’re taking bupropion to treat depression or as a smoking cessation aid, if you want to stop taking it, your first step should be talking with your healthcare provider.
If you notice any symptoms of Wellbutrin withdrawal after you stop using the drug (or notice any of your depression symptoms returning), don’t make any sudden changes to your dosage without first talking to your healthcare provider.
They may recommend adjusting your dosage or changing to a different type of antidepressant. In some cases, your provider might recommend taking an additional antidepressant medication at the same time as bupropion.
Remember: Everybody reacts differently to medications, which means your tapering schedule may — and probably will — be different from someone else’s.
That said, a general Wellbutrin taper schedule might follow this:
If your starting dosage is 300 milligrams daily, you’d first reduce it to 200 milligrams.
The second dose reduction would drop to 150 milligrams per day.
A third dosage reduction would be 100 milligrams each day.
You’ll typically have two to six weeks between each reduction, though it could be longer. You might also have smaller, more gradual reductions, depending on your reaction.
We know, we know — you may be over all the side effects and just want to get them over with. We’re a broken record here, but talking to your healthcare provider is the best way to work out a bupropion taper schedule that’s best for you.
Fortunately, bupropion withdrawal symptoms are generally mild and short-lasting. There are still some ways to make the transition more comfortable and as successful as possible — which is the goal, of course.
Follow the taper schedule from your healthcare provider. Continue using the medication as prescribed, even when your daily dosage is comparatively low. Consistency is key.
Monitor your symptoms and share updates. Let your healthcare provider know about any symptoms you notice as you taper down your dosage or after you stop using your medication completely.
Try therapy. Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), can be very helpful for treating depression. Regular online therapy sessions may improve your mood and help you stay focused on recovering.
Focus on healthy living. Regular exercise, healthy eating and optimal sleep all play an important role in improving your mood and helping you recover from depression without experiencing a relapse.
Don’t rush. Stopping antidepressants isn’t a race. Take it slow and remember the goal is to treat your depression as effectively as possible over the long term — not just to complete treatment and successfully stop taking your medication.
Everyone’s depression journey is different. Sometimes you try a medication like bupropion that maybe isn’t quite right for you. Whether it’s because you’re experiencing adverse effects, feel like your mood isn’t improving or something else, there are valid reasons for stopping medication.
Abruptly stopping Wellbutrin could make you withdrawal, though, which can cause symptoms like dizziness, insomnia, anxiety and nausea. Although not dangerous, going through a Wellbutrin withdrawal can be uncomfortable.
A silver lining? There are ways to get through Wellbutrin withdrawal and stop taking the medication. A healthcare provider can discuss how to wean off Wellbutrin through online psychiatry and talk to you about symptoms and other treatment options for depression.
If you’re in the midst of weaning off Wellbutrin and are looking for a mental health provider, our mental health services can get you connected with a licensed psychiatrist to talk through your withdrawal and symptoms of depression.
Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership.
She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH.
Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare.
Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.
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