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Jul 12, 2021
4 min read

Wellbutrin and alcohol: risks and side effects

Wellbutrin (bupropion) is an atypical antidepressant approved to treat depression, seasonal affective disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and certain types of sexual dysfunction. Another version of the same medication, called Zyban, helps people quit smoking. You should limit alcohol while taking Wellbutrin. Both drinking or suddenly stopping alcohol can have serious side effects on your health when you’re taking Wellbutrin. Wellbutrin lowers alcohol tolerance so even small amounts of alcohol may cause acute alcohol intoxication. Abruptly stopping alcohol when taking Wellbutrin may cause severe alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

steve silvestro

Reviewed by Steve Silvestro, MD

Written by Tobi Ash, MBA, RN, BSN

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Many medications, including antidepressants, don’t mix well with alcohol. If you’ve been taking Wellbutrin, drinking or stopping alcohol can increase your risk of certain problems. Learn how alcohol and Wellbutrin interact and how to take this drug safely.

What is Wellbutrin?

Wellbutrin is the brand name for bupropion (see Important Safety Information), a type of antidepressant. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) originally approved bupropion in 1985 (Fava, 2005). 

Wellbutrin is an atypical antidepressant, which means it doesn’t work the same way other antidepressants do. Most of the commonly used antidepressants work on neurotransmitters like serotonin. Wellbutrin is a norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitor (NDRI), which means it works on norepinephrine and dopamine (other neurotransmitters). By changing the levels of these neurotransmitters in your brain, Wellbutrin improves your mood (Fava, 2005).  

Wellbutrin is often prescribed for people who have had serious side effects to other antidepressants including fatigue, sexual dysfunction, and weight gain (Fava, 2005). 

This antidepressant comes in several formulations used to treat different health-related issues. Wellbutrin and Wellbutrin XL (bupropion hydrochloride) are FDA-approved to treat the symptoms of depression in major depressive disorder and seasonal affective disorder. Off-label uses include bipolar disorder, obesity, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and antidepressant-caused sexual dysfunction. Another version of bupropion, called Zyban, is approved to help people quit smoking (Fava, 2005).

A newer version of bupropion, Aplenzin, which is a steady 24-hour release of bupropion, was approved in 2008 (Bausch, 2020). 

Antidepressant medications like Wellbutrin are only available by prescription. Your healthcare provider will look at your physical and mental health history before prescribing this medication to you. Some people should not take Wellbutrin. If you have been diagnosed with an eating disorder, high blood pressure, central nervous system problems including seizures, or have a history of substance abuse, you should not take Wellbutrin (FDA, 2016).

What are the side effects of Wellbutrin?

All medications have side effects, including Wellbutrin.

Common side effects of Wellbutrin include anxiety, constipation, drowsiness, dry mouth, eye pain, headaches, increased urination, mania or excitement, racing thoughts, shakiness, sweating, trouble sleeping, or dramatic weight changes in a short time (FDA, 2016).

Serious side effects of Wellbutrin include (FDA, 2016):

  • Hallucinations
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Joint pain
  • Mental confusion
  • Panic attacks
  • Paranoia
  • Seizures

If you notice an allergic reaction to Wellbutrin, such as hives, body swelling, hoarseness, difficulty breathing, or chest pain, go to the nearest emergency room.

Can you drink alcohol when taking Wellbutrin?

Please check with your healthcare provider before drinking any alcohol when you are taking an antidepressant. 

Many people drink alcohol to relax or in social settings. Speak to your healthcare provider honestly about your alcohol use. Both drinking or suddenly stopping alcohol can have serious impacts on your health when you’re taking Wellbutrin (Bausch, 2020b).

Mixing Wellbutrin and alcohol is dangerous. These two substances interact with each other and intensify each one’s side effects. This combination dramatically increases the risk of drowsiness, nausea, gastrointestinal symptoms, dizziness, headaches, and, more frighteningly, seizures (NIAAA, 2014).

Drinking alcohol or taking Wellbutrin can each cause seizures on their own. The risk of seizures is higher if you are prescribed a high dose, have an underlying condition that causes seizures, or have an eating disorder. If you drink alcohol while taking Wellbutrin, this exponentially increases your risk of seizures (Bausch, 2020b). 

Wellbutrin also increases the effects of alcohol. These risks include blackouts, blurred vision, alcohol poisoning, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, memory loss, impaired judgment, paranoia, seizures, and suicidal thoughts (Bausch, 2020c).

Finally, using these two substances together decreases Wellbutrin’s effectiveness and can increase your symptoms of depression and suicidal thoughts (Fava, 2005)..

What are the dangers of alcohol withdrawal when taking Wellbutrin?

If you drink alcohol regularly or have been diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder and were prescribed Wellbutrin, you might think you should completely stop drinking alcohol. However, abruptly stopping alcohol can lead to a dangerous, life-threatening condition called alcohol withdrawal syndrome (Newman, 2021)

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include confusion, hallucinations, paranoia, tremors, and vomiting. In severe cases, it can even cause death (Newman, 2021).

Work with your healthcare provider to safely taper off your alcohol use, and follow their medical advice. 

Getting better

If you’ve taken your Wellbutrin for the day and had a drink that night with friends, don’t panic.

Keep an eye out for heightened side effects of Wellbutrin: worsening depressive symptoms, confusion, and a lack of coordination. Head to the emergency room if you have intense shaking and tremors, as these can be signs of a seizure.

Alcohol affects every person differently. Although it may seem like you should altogether avoid alcohol if you are taking Wellbutrin, abrupt alcohol withdrawal can also have severe consequences on your health. 

If you take or are considering taking Wellbutrin, speak to your healthcare provider honestly about any alcohol you consume so that you can work together to find the best course of action for you.

If you or a loved one want help with alcohol dependency, please call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.

References

  1. Bausch Health Companies. (2020). Aplenzin. Retrieved from https://www.bauschhealth.com/Portals/25/Pdf/PI/Aplenzin-PI.pdf
  2. Bausch Health Companies (2020b). Wellbutrin XL. Retrieved from https://www.wellbutrinxl.com/
  3. Bausch Health Companies (2020c). Highlights of Wellbutrin XL. Retrieved from https://www.bauschhealth.com/Portals/25/Pdf/PI/WellbutrinXL-PI.pdf
  4. Fava, M., Rush, A. J., Thase, M. E., Clayton, A., Stahl, S. M., et al. (2005). 15 years of clinical experience with bupropion HCl: from bupropion to bupropion SR to bupropion XL. Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 7(3), 106–113. doi: 10.4088/pcc.v07n0305. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1163271/
  5. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). (2014). Harmful interactions. National Institute of Health (NIH). Retrieved from https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/Medicine/medicine.htm
  6. Newman, R. (2021). Alcohol withdrawal. Statpearls [Internet]. Retrieved from https://www.statpearls.com/ArticleLibrary/viewarticle/17335
  7. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (2016). Wellbutrin. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/media/76996/download