Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
If you’ve been diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD), your healthcare provider may prescribe the medication Wellbutrin® to help you gain control over your symptoms and improve your quality of life.
Wellbutrin is effective at reducing the severity of depression symptoms for most people, but like other antidepressants, it doesn’t always start working right away.
Thankfully, there are early signs that you can look for after starting Wellbutrin to check that your medication is working.
Below, we’ve covered what Wellbutrin is, as well as how long it usually takes to treat depression symptoms. We’ve also listed six easy-to-notice signs Wellbutrin is working that you can look for if you recently started using it as a depression treatment.
Finally, we’ve shared some signs that Wellbutrin might not be working for you, as well as simple steps that you can take if Wellbutrin isn’t the right antidepressant for your needs.
Wellbutrin is an antidepressant that contains the active ingredient bupropion. It’s part of a class of drugs called atypical antidepressants. Wellbutrin works by increasing levels of certain natural chemicals, called neurotransmitters, in your brain and body.
More specifically, Wellbutrin increases the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in your body, both of which are important neurotransmitters for your moods, thoughts and mental health.
The FDA first approved Wellbutrin as a treatment for depression in 1985. The active ingredient in Wellbutrin, bupropion, is also used as a smoking cessation treatment and as an off-label form of treatment for seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Wellbutrin is sold as a sustained-release or extended-release tablet. Your mental health provider may recommend taking it one to four times each day, based on your needs and the dosage form of Wellbutrin you’re prescribed.
Our guide to depression medications provides more information about how Wellbutrin and other antidepressants work.
It’s common for antidepressants to require several weeks to start working, and Wellbutrin is no exception.
Most of the time, the therapeutic effects of Wellbutrin start to occur in the second week of using the medication. However, it’s far from uncommon for Wellbutrin to take longer than this to show real benefits.
If you’re prescribed Wellbutrin, make sure to continue taking it as prescribed by your healthcare provider, even if you don’t immediately feel better during the first weeks of treatment. Over time, you may start to notice improvements as Wellbutrin becomes more effective.
Because of its effects on neurotransmitter levels, Wellbutrin can help to lift your mood and make the symptoms of depression less severe.
After starting treatment with Wellbutrin, you should begin to gradually notice changes in the way you think, feel and behave. Many of these changes are similar to those that can occur with other antidepressant medications.
Look for the following six signs that Wellbutrin is improving your mental health and reducing the severity of your depression symptoms.
Depression can affect your sleep patterns, making it more difficult for you to fall asleep at night and maintain normal sleeping habits. It can also cause you to feel fatigued, which may end up making your sleep habits even worse.
It’s normal for symptoms like insomnia and early awakening to improve before other symptoms of depression after starting treatment with an antidepressant. If you feel like you can fall asleep easier than before, it may be a good sign that Wellbutrin is starting to work for you.
Another common sign that Wellbutrin is working is that your moods, feelings and thoughts may start to become less negative.
Depression can affect your moods, causing you to feel sad, anxious or empty. It can also affect the way you think, resulting in feelings of helplessness and a perception that your situation may never get better.
If you’ve recently been prescribed Wellbutrin and notice that your moods, thoughts and feelings begin to improve after a few weeks, it’s likely a sign that the medication is working.
One of the most common symptoms of depression is a reduced level of interest in your normal hobbies, passions and activities.
When you’re depressed, things that normally bring you joy and satisfaction may no longer feel pleasurable. This can create a vicious cycle, in which you feel less interested in taking part in certain aspects of life, leading to isolation and more severe depression.
As Wellbutrin starts to work, you may notice that you feel more interested in your usual hobbies and activities again. This may change your behavior and cause you to spend more of your time with friends and family or participate in social activities.
Depression can affect your mental function, making it more difficult for you to focus on specific activities and remember information. This can potentially have an impact on your educational progress, work abilities and even your ability to function on a day-to-day basis.
After taking Wellbutrin for several weeks, you may notice that you find it easier to pay attention, remember information or simply take care of your daily tasks.
Not only can depression affect your ability to focus, think effectively and remember information — it can also prevent you from being able to make decisions.
When you’re depressed, making even small decisions can be a real challenge. For this reason, many experts recommend delaying important life decisions, such as changing jobs or ending a relationship, until you’re no longer depressed.
If you’ve been taking Wellbutrin for several weeks, you may find that it’s easier for you to make decisions than before.
Depression isn’t solely a mental illness — it can also have a real impact on your physical health and wellbeing.
Many people experience physical symptoms while they’re depressed, including slower physical movements and speech, aches, joint pain, muscle pain and even digestive issues. These may improve after you start taking medication for depression, such as Wellbutrin.
Like other medications for depression, Wellbutrin can potentially cause side effects. Most of the adverse effects of Wellbutrin are mild and transient, although a small percentage of people who use this medication experience more severe or longer-lasting side effects.
Common side effects of Wellbutrin include:
Nausea and/or vomiting
Tachycardia (fast heart rate)
Wellbutrin can also interact with some medications, including other antidepressants, clopidogrel and medications that reduce the seizure threshold.
To reduce your risk of drug interactions, make sure to inform your healthcare provider about any medications you currently use or have recently used before taking Wellbutrin.
When stopped abruptly, Wellbutrin can cause withdrawal symptoms. If you develop side effects, it’s important not to make changes to your dosage or stop using Wellbutrin without first talking to your healthcare provider.
For more side effects, you can read our blog on Wellbutrin sexual side effects.
Wellbutrin is generally an effective medication with mild side effects, but it’s not always the right antidepressant for everyone. It’s normal to try several antidepressants before finding the optimal one for you, and in some cases, Wellbutrin may not be that one.
Look for the following signs that Wellbutrin isn’t working:
You don’t notice any changes in your mood, even after several months. Wellbutrin can take several weeks to start working, but it should eventually produce improvements in your moods, feelings and general mental wellbeing.
If you don’t notice any improvements after taking Wellbutrin for several months, you may need to adjust your dosage or switch to a different antidepressant, based only on the guidance from your healthcare provider.
You have severe or persistent side effects. Wellbutrin can cause side effects, but they generally shouldn’t be severe or persistent. If you have side effects that don’t go away or become more severe over time, it may be a sign that Wellbutrin isn’t right for you.
Your depressive symptoms become more serious. Some people start to notice more severe depression symptoms, even after beginning treatment with Wellbutrin or a similar antidepressant.
If you feel more depressed after starting Wellbutrin, make sure to inform your healthcare provider as soon as you can.
You develop suicidal ideation and/or behavior. Wellbutrin and other antidepressants may cause an increase in risk of suicide in young adults. If you start to feel suicidal after using Wellbutrin, it’s important to seek professional medical care as soon as possible.
You can get help for suicidal thoughts by contacting emergency services on 911, calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-8255 or 988, or using the services in our list of crisis and mental health hotlines.
If you don’t notice any improvements from Wellbutrin after taking it for several weeks, or if you’re prone to side effects that are severe or persistent, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider.
If Wellbutrin isn’t working, your healthcare provider may recommend making changes to the way you take your medication. This could mean adjusting your dosage or taking Wellbutrin earlier or later in the day.
In some cases, your healthcare provider may suggest switching to a different type of medication for depression, such as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI).
Make sure to follow your healthcare provider’s instructions and inform them if you still don’t feel better after changing the way you use Wellbutrin or switching to a new antidepressant.
Wellbutrin generally starts to work in two weeks, meaning you should start to see signs that it’s working soon after you start treatment. These may include improvements in your moods, sleep patterns, ability to focus, physical health and general quality of life.
If Wellbutrin doesn’t work for you, it’s best to let your healthcare provider know. They may make changes to your dosage or suggest using a different type of medication to treat your depression symptoms.
Worried you may have depression? We offer bupropion (the active ingredient in Wellbutrin) and other medications for depression and anxiety, following an online consultation with a psychiatry provider who will determine if a prescription is appropriate.
Start your mental wellness journey today.