You may think that it doesn’t matter if you sometimes drink alcohol while taking medication for depression or anxiety.
Unfortunately, however, your drinking habits can affect how certain medications work and possibly put you at risk for serious side effects.
Take Wellbutrin, a common antidepressant used to treat major depression and seasonal affective disorder.
The package insert for this medication specifically says to minimize or completely avoid alcohol.
I’ll explain why in this article. I’ll also describe how Wellbutrin is typically used, common side effects, and how to take Wellbutrin.
But if you have any specific questions about your antidepressant, you should contact the healthcare provider who prescribed it.
What Is Wellbutrin?
Wellbutrin is a brand name for the antidepressant bupropion.
It belongs to a class of medications known as aminoketones or norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs).
Wellbutrin can be an effective way to treat major depressive disorder (MDD) and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
It is also used to help people quit smoking and may be prescribed off-label for ADHD, weight loss, and bipolar disorder.
How Wellbutrin works
The exact cause of depression is still unclear, but brain chemicals called neurotransmitters appear to play a key role.
Too much or too little of specific neurotransmitters leads to symptoms of depression.
Antidepressants can help restore the balance of these chemicals.
Many commonly prescribed antidepressants are SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
Wellbutrin is different.
It does not affect serotonin levels as strongly but instead works on dopamine and norepinephrine.
It helps make these neurotransmitters more available, which can effect how the brain responds and a person’s overall mood.
Like with other antidepressants, it may take weeks or up to a few months to notice the full benefits of Wellbutrin.
Common Wellbutrin Side Effects
Wellbutrin does not tend to cause long-lasting side effects.
If you start taking Wellbutrin, you may initially notice any of the following common side effects:
Most symptoms decrease as your body adjusts to the medication.
If you do experience worsening or persistent symptoms or have other concerns, speak to your doctor.
Wellbutrin and Alcohol
Most antidepressants come with warnings to avoid alcohol, particularly anything more than moderate drinking.
That’s because alcohol acts as a depressant on the brain.
It can counteract the effects of antidepressants or interact with them, leading to stronger side effects.
If you do not regularly consume alcohol, drinking it while taking Wellbutrin can increase the risk of complications such as:
- Shaking or tremors
- Paranoid feelings
- Mood changes
- Behavior alterations
- Worsening depression
- Suicidal thoughts
- Panic attacks
- Nausea and vomiting
Unfortunately, if you regularly consume high amounts of alcohol, stopping drinking to take Wellbutrin increases the risk of these side effects.
To ensure that your doctor can safely prescribe medication, be completely transparent with them about:
- How much alcohol you routinely consume
- What type(s) of alcohol you drink
- How long you have been consistently consuming this amount
- Events or triggers that may lead to a change in your alcohol use pattern
Drinking alcohol while taking Wellbutrin increases the risk of seizures.
You are also at greater risk of seizure if you:
- Have epilepsy
- Take a higher dosage of Wellbutrin
- Have an eating disorder
- Use certain other medications like steroids, antipsychotics, or other antidepressants
If you experience a seizure while taking Wellbutrin, get emergency medical help right away.
Once your condition has been stabilized, you will likely need to be switched to a different antidepressant since the risk of future seizures increases after you have had one while taking Wellbutrin.
Alcohol and depression
Many people drink alcohol because it can lead to feelings of pleasure, relaxation, or well-being—at least at first.
This happens because alcohol increases how much dopamine is in the brain.
And for some people, too little dopamine is associated with symptoms of depression.
The problem with drinking alcohol if you have depression is that the effects of the increased dopamine are short-lived.
After the alcohol is out of your system, dopamine levels return to what they were before, and the positive feelings disappear.
In fact, because alcohol is a depressant, depression worsens after the alcohol wears off.
It can even lead to low mood in people who have not been diagnosed with clinical depression.
Unfortunately, if you believe that alcohol makes you feel better, this can worsen the cycle of depression, neurotransmitter problems, and alcohol dependence.
Other Side Effects of Wellbutrin
In addition to the common side effects of Wellbutrin listed above, rarer side effects, which are serious, can include:
- Suicidal thoughts
- Heart palpitations
- Irrational fears
How to Take Wellbutrin
Wellbutrin comes in a sustained-release version (Wellbutrin SR) and an extended-release version (Wellbutrin XL). Wellbutrin SR has to be taken more frequently, whereas Wellbutrin XL can be taken less frequently because it stays in the body longer.
The dosage of Wellbutrin depends on which form you take, why you are taking it, and other factors like the severity of your symptoms.
Most people start on a lower dose, which doctors increase if needed.
Wellbutrin SR is typically taken twice a day, in the morning and mid-afternoon.
Wellbutrin XL is taken once a day, in the morning.
Wellbutrin can be taken on an empty stomach.
If this leads to an upset stomach, take it with food.
Swallow the tablets whole.
Do not crush, break, or chew them.
Doing so affects the medication’s release and you will not get the proper effect from it.
If you miss a dose of Wellbutrin, skip it and take your next dose at the regular time.
If you try to “make up” for the missed dose, it can increase the risk of seizure.
When Can I Start Drinking If I’m No Longer Taking Wellbutrin?
Antidepressants need to be tapered over time to avoid sudden symptoms from stopping them.
If you have been weaning off of Wellbutrin, it should be mostly out of your system in less than 5 days after you take your final dose.
However, ask your doctor when it is safe to consume alcohol after you are done with Wellbutrin.
How long does Wellbutrin stay in your system?
Wellbutrin is typically cleared from the body in 4-6 days.
But how quickly your body clears Wellbutrin depends on many factors, including:
- Your age
- Your medical history
- Other medications you take
- Your kidney health
Are There Any Antidepressants That Aren’t Affected by Alcohol?
Doctors do not advise consuming alcohol when taking antidepressants.
First, alcohol acts as a depressant and can decrease the effectiveness of any antidepressant.
Second, serious potential interactions can occur between antidepressants and alcohol.
Taking certain classes of antidepressants with alcohol can cause life-threatening problems.
For example, MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) can cause dangerously high blood pressure and increase the risk of stroke if you consume alcohol while taking them.
Lastly, alcohol can worsen overall feelings of depression, making it harder to treat.
If you’re having a mental health emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. You can also get free 24/7 support from a suicide and crisis expert by calling or texting 988. If you’d prefer to chat online, you can chat with a suicide and crisis expert by visiting the Lifeline Chat.
How K Health Can Help
Think you might need a prescription for Wellbutrin (bupropion)?
K Health has clinicians standing by 24/7 to evaluate your symptoms and determine if Wellbutrin is right for you.
Get started with our free assessment, which will tell you in minutes if treatment could be a good fit. If yes, we’ll connect you right to a clinician who can prescribe medication and have it shipped right to your door.
Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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The Efficacy and Tolerability of Bupropion in the Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder. (2011).
Medication Guide: Wellbutrin XL. (2016).
Wellbutrin (Bupropion Hydrochloride). (2006).
Wellbutrin (Bupropion) Interactions. (2021).
Wellbutrin Withdrawal. (2021).