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If you’re taking the antidepressant Wellbutrin and need to stop for any reason, here’s a word of caution: stopping this drug suddenly could result in some not-so-pleasant Wellbutrin withdrawal symptoms. But don’t worry—that doesn’t mean you need to stay on this medication forever if it’s not appropriate for you. Your healthcare provider can help you taper off the drug slowly to avoid those unwanted symptoms.
Keep reading to learn more about Wellbutrin withdrawal and how to deal with it.
What is Wellbutrin withdrawal?
Wellbutrin (bupropion; see Important Safety Information) is a popular antidepressant also used to treat seasonal affective disorder and help quit smoking (among other off-label uses).
About 20% of people who abruptly lower their antidepressant dosage or stop taking it completely (going “cold turkey”) will experience withdrawal symptoms. This can happen with any antidepressant medication, including Wellbutrin (Gabriel, 2017).
Medical researchers don’t know precisely why these withdrawal symptoms occur. Still, they have noted that they are much more likely after stopping short-acting SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), such as Paxil (paroxetine; see Important Safety Information), and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors), such as Effexor (venlafaxine; see Important Safety Information) (Wilson, 2015).
There is less research on bupropion-associated withdrawal symptoms than on other antidepressants, but case reports show that Wellbutrin withdrawal symptoms are typically mild and usually last only a short time if they occur (Henssler, 2019).
Wellbutrin withdrawal symptoms
The symptoms of Wellbutrin withdrawal can start from a few days to a week after your last dose of medication. The symptoms are typically mild and go away on their own within two to six weeks (Henssler, 2019; Carvalho, 2016).
Researchers use the mnemonic FINISH to describe the mental and physical symptoms of antidepressant discontinuation syndrome, which stands for (Gabriel, 2017):
- Flu-like symptoms—feeling tired and achy, headache, sweating
- Insomnia—sometimes with vivid dreams or nightmares
- Nausea—occasionally with vomiting
- Imbalance—dizziness or lightheadedness
- Sensory disturbances—feeling burning, tingling, or electric-like sensations known as “brain zaps”
- Hyperarousal—anxiety, irritability, agitation, mood swings, and sometime manic-like symptoms
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In rare cases, withdrawal symptoms may last longer than six weeks, developing into a condition called “persistent post-withdrawal disorder.” This is not common, though (Carvalho, 2016).
Talking with your healthcare provider and tapering your medication over a period of weeks can reduce the risk of experiencing withdrawal symptoms, although some symptoms are still possible (Carvalho, 2016).
Stopping Wellbutrin safely
There are many reasons you may decide to stop taking Wellbutrin. Regardless of your reason for stopping, it’s best to do so gradually with the medical advice of a healthcare professional.
While medical research agrees that a slow taper is the best bet, there’s no clear consensus on the optimal schedule. Your healthcare provider can help you determine the best tapering schedule for you based on your past experiences, your physical and mental health history, and whether you’re taking a different antidepressant (Wilson, 2015; Keks, 2016).
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Strategies could include slowly decreasing the dose over weeks or months, or decreasing Wellbutrin while slowly starting another antidepressant. No matter what method you and your provider choose, it’s essential to keep them updated on how you’re feeling (Wilson, 2015; Keks, 2016).
Be sure to let your provider know if you begin experiencing Wellbutrin withdrawal symptoms or if you experience a return of your depression. Get help immediately if you start to feel increased symptoms of depression or have suicidal thoughts.
If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts or behaviors of suicide or self-harm, help is available for free. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Or text TALK to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor
Is there any treatment for Wellbutrin withdrawal?
For the most part, Wellbutrin withdrawal symptoms are mild and short-lived. Most people will not require any specific treatment (Gabriel, 2017).
You can help yourself cope with mild withdrawal symptoms by:
- Following any taper directions that your provider gives you
- Getting adequate hydration, sleep, and nutrition
- Keeping in touch with your healthcare provider
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help some people deal with withdrawal symptoms and any related distress. Studies have shown that even six to eight sessions of CBT can be helpful (Wilson, 2015; Nieuwsma, 2012).
In the case of more severe Wellbutrin withdrawal symptoms, your provider may recommend restarting the medication to stop the symptoms before slowly tapering it down again (Gabriel, 2017; Henssler, 2019).
Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome is less likely with longer-acting medications such as Prozac (fluoxetine; see Important Safety Information). Another strategy for treating Wellbutrin withdrawal involves switching to a longer-acting antidepressant and then slowly weaning off that medication (Henssler, 2019; Wilson, 2015).
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Overall, the best treatment strategy for Wellbutrin withdrawal is prevention. If you want to stop taking Wellbutrin, see your healthcare provider and make a plan to taper off it slowly.
- Carvalho, A. F., Sharma, M. S., Brunoni, A. R., et al. (2016). The safety, tolerability and risks associated with the use of newer generation antidepressant drugs: a critical review of the literature. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 85(5), 270–288. doi:10.1159/000447034. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27508501/
- Gabriel, M. & Sharma, V. (2017). Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome. CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal, 189(21), E747. doi:10.1503/cmaj.160991. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5449237/
- Henssler, J., Heinz, A., Brandt, L., & Bschor, T. (2019). Antidepressant withdrawal and rebound phenomena. Deutsches Arzteblatt International, 116(20), 355–361. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2019.0355. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6637660/
- Huecker, M. R., Smiley, A., & Saadabadi, A. (2021). Bupropion. StatPearls. Retrieved on Apr. 6, 2022 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470212
- Keks, N., Hope, J., & Keogh, S. (2016). Switching and stopping antidepressants. Australian Prescriber, 39(3), 76–83. doi:10.18773/austprescr.2016.039. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4919171/
- Nieuwsma, J. A., Trivedi, R. B., McDuffie, J., et al. (2012). Brief psychotherapy for depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 43(2), 129–151. doi:10.2190/PM.43.2.c. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3668561/
- Wilson, E., & Lader, M. (2015). A review of the management of antidepressant discontinuation symptoms. Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, 5(6), 357–368. doi:10.1177/2045125315612334. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4722507/
Dr. Steve Silvestro is a board-certified pediatrician and Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.