Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 3/10/2022
There are a lot of ways to fight depression. From therapy and meditation to pills and exercise, the options are endless.
One of the most frequently compared pairs of medication are Wellbutrin® (bupropion) and Zoloft® (sertraline), which are both antidepressant medications but have very different mechanisms of effect on major depression.
You might be here right now because a healthcare professional has offered you one or both — in the past or recently — and you’re trying to understand the difference.
You might also be here because you’ve tried one of these in the past, and now you’re wondering why the other is supposed to be different.
In depression treatment, trying more than one medication to find the right fit is like trying on shoes when you’re young — it’s necessary because things change.
Your needs may be different, and the right “fit” may mean something different.
Let's address the differences and similarities of these two medications.
To start off, the biggest similarity here is that both Wellbutrin and Zoloft are FDA approved for the treatment of depression. But what other similarities do these drugs have?
For the most part, the side effects of Zoloft and Wellbutrin are pretty similar. Dry mouth, constipation, headaches, insomnia and nausea are shared side effects between the two.
One concern might be that one would have a more significant impact on anxiety, but despite side effect warnings, differences are considered clinically insignificant between the two with regards to their effects on anxiety, according to an article published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
Even though Wellbutrin and Zoloft may seem similar at first glance, there are many small differences that make these two drugs stand apart from each other, and could make a difference for you in your depression treatment.
As you may have already noticed, the main difference between Wellbutrin and Zoloft is what the medication targets.
Wellbutrin acts primarily on dopamine and norepinephrine, and while Zoloft can also have minimal effects on both, it’s not primarily designed for those purposes.
Learn more about SSRIs here.
It's true that both brand name Zoloft and Wellbutrin treat major depressive disorder, but each drug holds separate FDA and off-label uses that set them apart.
Zoloft is approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It is also often prescribed off-label by healthcare providers to treat generalized anxiety disorder and separation anxiety disorder.
Additionally, healthcare providers sometimes prescribe Wellbutrin as a treatment for ADHD, according to a review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.
Zoloft is typically prescribed to be taken once a day to treat major depressive disorder and can be taken in a liquid form. Wellbutrin is only available as tablets but can be taken in either daily or twice-daily formats.
One of the key differences between the two meds, however, is their effects on sexual function, according to an article published in the journal, Clinical Therapeutics.
One study found that, all things aside, Wellbutrin is better for patients who are sexually active, because it has significantly lower instances of sexual dysfunction or problems with ejaculation, which is a common side effect with SSRIs.
But generally speaking, these two medications are both considered safe, effective and treat many of the same issues and concerns arising from the same conditions and disorders.
Actually, yes. You can take Wellbutrin and Zoloft together. According to an article published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, about 15-20% of depression patients experience depressive symptoms that are persistent beyond appropriate treatment. This is where doubling up on Wellbutrin and Zoloft comes in.
Because each drug targets a different part of the brain, the study says that there was efficacy in combining both drugs.
None of the participants of this study experienced adverse effects from the combination, but combining these drugs may increase your risk of seizures and heightened adverse effects.
It is important to seek medical advice about drug interactions from your healthcare provider before taking sertraline and bupropion at the same time.
Depression and anxiety disorders aren’t one-size-fits-all issues — they can be hyper-individualized and can happen simultaneously.
The good news on both of these pills is that they can be a refuge for depression sufferers who haven’t had luck with other medications.
A healthcare professional will both recommend and prescribe the right treatment option for you.
They’ll also address other potential factors in your depression battle — things like lifestyle and recent or previous stressors and traumas — that might be causing you distress.
If you’re just learning about depression, we have other resources you might want to examine, including our mental health resources guide.
Keep reading, but do yourself a favor and take the next step, too — talk to someone. Get the help you do deserve for a problem you don’t deserve. Schedule a telepsychiatry evaluation today.
You’ll thank yourself.