Wellbutrin is a prescription medicine used to treat symptoms of depression, seasonal affective disorder, and to help patients quit smoking.
Some healthcare providers may use it for other reasons, including for patients with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
In this article, I’ll explain what Wellbutrin is, how it is commonly used, and what the research says about Wellbutrin and ADHD.
You’ll learn about other treatment options for ADHD.
I’ll talk about how to take Wellbutrin, as well as some common side effects and precautions for the medication.
What is Wellbutrin?
Wellbutrin is a brand name for bupropion, an antidepressant medication that has been FDA approved since 1985.
Bupropion is a norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitor (NDRI), also known as aminoketone antidepressants.
NDRIs balance chemicals in the brain to help improve symptoms of depression.
Wellbutrin is most often prescribed for the following reasons:
How Wellbutrin works
Norepinephrine and dopamine are both chemicals in the brain and body that have multiple functions—one of them is to boost mood.
Both chemicals are neurotransmitters, meaning they’re used to send (transmit) signals through the body.
Usually, when they’re finished transmitting their messages, neurotransmitters are reabsorbed into the body to be recycled. This process is called “reuptake.”
When doctors want to boost the amount of norepinephrine and dopamine in the body to balance brain activity and boost mood, they may prescribe a norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitor, like Wellbutrin.
These medications inhibit the reuptake process, increasing the amount of these neurotransmitters that are in the brain.
Depression can occur for different reasons, but the primary imbalance happens when neurotransmitters in the brain clear too quickly or are not in balance with each other.
Antidepressants like Wellbutrin help to restore the delicate balance.
Like most antidepressants, Wellbutrin doesn’t work like the flip of a switch.
It takes time for the brain to adjust and for neurotransmitter levels to be affected.
You may not notice the full benefits of Wellbutrin for a few weeks or a few months.
Wellbutrin for ADHD
Norepinephrine and dopamine have been shown to play roles in attention and focus.
Because of its effects on these neurotransmitters, Wellbutrin may support better concentration and focus, both of which may be a challenge for people with ADHD.
Common symptoms of ADHD include:
- Inattention or problems focusing or concentrating
- Poor executive function
- Time blindness (losing track of time)
- Being easily distracted
- Deep focus on interests, little focus on areas of disinterest
ADHD can look different in everyone, and symptoms can change over time with age, hormones, stressors, and other factors.
Wellbutrin is sometimes prescribed to help people with ADHD.
It may be used alone, or in conjunction with another medication.
Stimulant medications such as amphetamine and dextroamphetamine (Adderall) or methylphenidate (Ritalin) are the first-line treatments for ADHD.
If someone is sensitive to stimulant medication or wants to avoid it for other reasons, Wellbutrin may be a second-line treatment choice for ADHD.
Off-label use of Wellbutrin
Off-label, Wellbutrin may also be used as a treatment for:
- Weight loss
- Bipolar disorder
Wellbutrin may be effective for these, but it is considered off-label use because clinical trials have not shown robust data to make the claims that it can treat these on its own.
What the research says
Research on Wellbutrin for ADHD is ongoing.
So far, according to results pooled from 6 studies involving 438 people, researchers found that Wellbutrin may slightly decrease ADHD symptoms in adults after 6-10 weeks of use at doses from 150 to 450mg per day.
Due to the small size of these studies, scientists consider this to be low-quality evidence.
More research needs to be done, which is why Wellbutrin is not considered a first-line treatment for ADHD.
Why your doctor may prefer Wellbutrin
Even though there is not enough data to determine how Wellbutrin may work for ADHD as a treatment, your doctor may still prescribe it to help with ADHD symptoms.
There are several reasons why.
- Stimulants don’t always work: As many as 20% of ADHD patients do not receive benefits from stimulant medications. If a stimulant has improved your ADHD symptoms, your doctor may want to try Wellbutrin to see if it improves focus.
- You cannot take stimulant medications: Some patients respond poorly to stimulants for other reasons, such as other existing health conditions or interactions with other needed prescriptions. Wellbutrin may represent a safer alternative treatment.
- You have other disorders that Wellbutrin may help: People with ADHD may also have other conditions that Wellbutrin could benefit, such as depression, seasonal affective disorder, or a desire to quit smoking. Wellbutrin is FDA-approved for treating these, and has the added benefit of potentially decreasing ADHD symptoms.
Other Treatments for ADHD
There are other ways to decrease symptoms of ADHD.
They may be used in addition to stimulants or Wellbutrin, or as an alternative to them.
- Behavior modification therapy: This is often recommended as the first-line treatment for children under 6 who have been diagnosed with ADHD. It may also be effective for older children or adults who have milder symptoms or who do not respond well to medication.
- Non-stimulant medication: The FDA has approved non-stimulant medication for ADHD, including atomoxetine (Strattera), guanfacine (Intuniv), and clonidine (Kapvay). These may provide fewer side effects than stimulants, or be safe for people with health conditions that are contraindicated for stimulant medication.
Common Wellbutrin Side Effects
Wellbutrin tends to have milder side effects than other antidepressants.
They tend to decrease the longer you take it.
Common Wellbutrin side effects may include:
- Rapid pulse
- Sore throat
- Dry mouth
- Weight changes
Tell your doctor if you notice new or worsening side effects while taking Wellbutrin.
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 to Take Wellbutrin
Wellbutrin comes in a sustained-release form and an extended-release form.
How you take Wellbutrin depends on which form you are prescribed:
- Wellbutrin SR is taken twice a day, in the morning and mid-afternoon. The initial dose is usually 150 mg in each of these two daily doses.
- Wellbutrin XL is taken once a day in the morning- 150mg is a common starting dose.
Wellbutrin can be taken on an empty stomach, though eating food with it may help decrease possible nausea.
Tablets need to be swallowed whole.
They can not be crushed, broken, or chewed. If you do break them, the medication release will be affected, and you will not get the proper effect from it.
If you miss a dose of Wellbutrin, take it as soon as you remember.
If you normally take it twice a day, make sure there are at least 4 hours between doses.
If you only take Wellbutrin once a day and remember that you have missed your dose past the middle of the day, skip the missed dose and resume your normal schedule the next day.
Wellbutrin is generally well-tolerated, but should not be taken under certain circumstances.
Do not take Wellbutrin if:
- You are pregnant or breastfeeding
- You are prone to seizures or have family history of seizures
- You take other medications that interact with it
- You are dependent on alcohol or experience alcohol withdrawal
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 Use of Buproprion SR in Cigarette Smoking Cessation. (2008).
Bupropion for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults. (2017).
A Systematic Review of the Use of Bupropion for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Adolescents. (2017).
Treatment of ADHD. (2021).
Dealing with ADHD: What you need to know. (2016).
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