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Bupropion (Wellbutrin) Withdrawal: Symptoms and Tips for Coping

Mike Bohl, MD, MPH, ALM

Reviewed by Mike Bohl, MD

Written by Rachel Sacks

Published 04/20/2022

Updated 02/01/2024

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 many antidepressants abruptly (as opposed to tapering off the medication) comes with its own withdrawal symptoms.

But can all antidepressants lead to withdrawal symptoms? Well, that’s where things get interesting. 

Let’s take a look at one common antidepressant, bupropion (Wellbutrin XL®), an FDA-approved prescription drug for depression and seasonal affective disorder.

Because just like doing some research before your vacation makes for a better trip, knowing about whether or not you should worry about stopping bupropion abruptly may help you in your mental health and antidepressant medication journey.

Let’s get one thing right out of the way: unlike most other antidepressants, stopping bupropion abruptly causes withdrawal symptoms in very, very few cases. That’s one of its important advantages. In fact, there’s just one case report of this happening that was published in 1999 and a second case report that was published in 2002. In response to the first case report, a pharmaceutical representative said, “Given our clinical trial experience and postmarketing surveillance data, the evidence does not indicate that bupropion is associated with withdrawal symptoms and does not support a general recommendation to taper the dose of bupropion prior to discontinuation.”

But all that doesn’t mean you still shouldn’t read on to know what can happen if you stop taking Wellbutrin.

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 making any changes to the medications you’re taking.

  • As we mentioned above, bupropion is prescribed for major depressive disorder and seasonal affective disorder among other depressive disorders under the brand name Wellbutrin. Bupropion, sold under a different brand name as Zyban®, can also be used for smoking cessation or quitting smoking.

  • Wellbutrin withdrawal is extremely rare and is published in two case reports. Potential symptoms include anxiety, irritable mood, difficulty sleeping, headaches and more.

  • The vast majority of people do not experience any withdrawal symptoms when stopping Wellbutrin, and postmarketing surveillance data do not suggest bupropion needs to be tapered.

Keep reading for a deeper dive into Wellbutrin.

As we’ve stated, most people do not experience withdrawal symptoms from stopping bupropion. Bupropion works in a different way in the body compared to most other antidepressants, so the same things don’t happen when you stop taking the medication.

In the two case reports that do exist on bupropion withdrawal, one person started experiencing symptoms five days after stopping bupropion, and the other person started experiencing symptoms within one day of stopping bupropion.

One reason you might be concerned about stopping bupropion abruptly is because you’ve heard of antidepressant discontinuation syndrome. Researchers believe antidepressant discontinuation syndrome occurs because of a change in serotonin levels after you stop taking a medication that impacts serotonin. This includes many common antidepressants known as the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) as well as antidepressants in certain other classes.

Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome can happen to around 20 percent of people who abruptly stop taking certain medications (a process known as going “cold turkey”). But, once again, we’d like to point out that this refers to many antidepressants — but not to bupropion.

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

  • Mood swings

  • Anxiety

  • Irritability, agitation or aggression

  • Electric shock-like experiences in the brain, known as “brain zaps

After decades of use, there’s little evidence that bupropion-associated withdrawal symptoms — if they occur at all — are the same as antidepressant discontinuation syndrome.

The earlier case report of Wellbutrin withdrawal symptoms looked at one man who had used Wellbutrin to quit smoking.

Throughout several other clinical trials though, no adverse effects or withdrawal symptoms were reported in thousands of patients.

Bupropion is an antidepressant that belongs to a class of drugs called norepinephrine–dopamine reuptake inhibitors, or NDRIs.

The long name isn’t to make things more confusing but instead refers to how the medication works. We have different neurotransmitters or brain chemicals that are responsible for controlling our moods, level of alertness and other functions. Different antidepressant medications are thought to alter the levels of these chemicals.

Bupropion increases the amount of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine that remain in the spaces where neurons communicate with one another. By increasing the levels of these neurotransmitters, bupropion can help ease depression symptoms and make it easier to deal with nicotine cravings.

The withdrawal effects seen in antidepressant discontinuation syndrome are related to serotonin — a neurotransmitter that’s affected by SSRIs, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), MAOIs and other antidepressants.

Because bupropion doesn’t change your serotonin levels, it’s less likely to cause many of the withdrawal symptoms listed above.

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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?

The answer is easy: talk to your healthcare provider before you make any sudden changes to your usage of this medication. They may give you the green light to stop, but it’s best to keep them in the loop for everything related to your health. And if you do feel like you’re experiencing symptoms after stopping, talk to them again. They could suggest going back on the medication, tapering the medication, or starting you on a new medication. 

You should also talk to your healthcare provider as soon as possible if you notice any of your depression symptoms returning.

Fortunately, bupropion withdrawal symptoms are extremely rare. 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, if they have given you one. 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.

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The words “Wellbutrin withdrawal” may be a bit misleading, as many studies and trials have found that stopping bupropion doesn’t exactly cause many adverse effects.

Everyone’s depression journey is different though. 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 viable reasons for stopping medication.

In very rare cases, abruptly stopping Wellbutrin could potentially cause withdrawal, though, which can cause symptoms like anxiety, irritable mood and more. Although not necessarily 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 thinking about stopping 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 symptoms of depression.

8 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Guide, S. (n.d.). Going Off Antidepressants - Harvard Health Publishing - Harvard. Harvard Health. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/going-off-antidepressants
  2. WELLBUTRIN. (n.d.). Accessdata.fda.gov. Retrieved from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2009/018644s039s040.pdf
  3. Stahl, S. M., Pradko, J. F., Haight, B. R., Modell, J. G., Rockett, C. B., & Learned-Coughlin, S. (2004). A Review of the Neuropharmacology of Bupropion, a Dual Norepinephrine and Dopamine Reuptake Inhibitor. Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry, 6(4), 159–166. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC514842/
  4. Huecker, M.R., Smiley, A., Saadabadi, A. (2023 Jan-). Bupropion. [Updated 2023 Apr 9]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470212/
  5. Gabriel, M., & Sharma, V. (2017). Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l'Association medicale canadienne, 189(21), E747. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5449237/
  6. Wilson, E., & Lader, M. (2015). A review of the management of antidepressant discontinuation symptoms. Therapeutic advances in psychopharmacology, 5(6), 357–368. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4722507/
  7. How to taper off your antidepressant. (2022, May 13). Harvard Health. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/how-to-taper-off-your-antidepressant
  8. Nieuwsma, J. A., Trivedi, R. B., McDuffie, J., Kronish, I., Benjamin, D., & Williams, J. W. (2012). Brief psychotherapy for depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis. International journal of psychiatry in medicine, 43(2), 129–151. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3668561/

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Mike Bohl, MD

Dr. Mike Bohl is a licensed physician, a Medical Advisor at Hims & Hers, and the Director of Scientific & Medical Content at a stealth biotech startup, where he is involved in pharmaceutical drug development. Prior to joining Hims & Hers, Dr. Bohl spent several years working in digital health, focusing on patient education. He has also worked in medical journalism for The Dr. Oz Show (receiving recognition for contributions from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences when the show won Outstanding Informative Talk Show at the 2016–2017 Daytime Emmy® Awards) and at Sharecare. He is a Medical Expert Board Member at Eat This, Not That! and a Board Member at International Veterinary Outreach.

Dr. Bohl obtained his Bachelor of Arts and Doctor of Medicine from Brown University, his Master of Public Health from Columbia University, and his Master of Liberal Arts in Extension Studies—Journalism from Harvard University. He is currently pursuing a Master of Business Administration and Master of Science in Healthcare Leadership at Cornell University. Dr. Bohl trained in internal medicine with a focus on community health at NYU Langone Health.

Dr. Bohl is Certified in Public Health by the National Board of Public Health Examiners, Medical Writer Certified by the American Medical Writers Association, a certified Editor in the Life Sciences by the Board of Editors in the Life Sciences, a Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Nutrition Coach by the National Academy of Sports Medicine, and a Board Certified Medical Affairs Specialist by the Accreditation Council for Medical Affairs. He has graduate certificates in Digital Storytelling and Marketing Management & Digital Strategy from Harvard Extension School and certificates in Business Law and Corporate Governance from Cornell Law School.

In addition to his written work, Dr. Bohl has experience creating medical segments for radio and producing patient education videos. He has also spent time conducting orthopedic and biomaterial research at Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals of Cleveland and practicing clinically as a general practitioner on international medical aid projects with Medical Ministry International.

Dr. Bohl lives in Manhattan and enjoys biking, resistance training, sailing, scuba diving, skiing, tennis, and traveling. You can find Dr. Bohl on LinkedIn for more information.

Publications

  • Younesi, M., Knapik, D. M., Cumsky, J., Donmez, B. O., He, P., Islam, A., Learn, G., McClellan, P., Bohl, M., Gillespie, R. J., & Akkus, O. (2017). Effects of PDGF-BB delivery from heparinized collagen sutures on the healing of lacerated chicken flexor tendon in vivo. Acta biomaterialia, 63, 200–209. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1742706117305652?via%3Dihub

  • Gebhart, J. J., Weinberg, D. S., Bohl, M. S., & Liu, R. W. (2016). Relationship between pelvic incidence and osteoarthritis of the hip. Bone & joint research, 5(2), 66–72. https://boneandjoint.org.uk/Article/10.1302/2046-3758.52.2000552

  • Gebhart, J. J., Bohl, M. S., Weinberg, D. S., Cooperman, D. R., & Liu, R. W. (2015). Pelvic Incidence and Acetabular Version in Slipped Capital Femoral Epiphysis. Journal of pediatric orthopedics, 35(6), 565–570. https://journals.lww.com/pedorthopaedics/abstract/2015/09000/pelvic_incidence_and_acetabular_version_in_slipped.5.aspx

  • Islam, A., Bohl, M. S., Tsai, A. G., Younesi, M., Gillespie, R., & Akkus, O. (2015). Biomechanical evaluation of a novel suturing scheme for grafting load-bearing collagen scaffolds for rotator cuff repair. Clinical biomechanics (Bristol, Avon), 30(7), 669–675. https://www.clinbiomech.com/article/S0268-0033(15)00143-6/fulltext

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