Have you tried to manage your attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) with stimulant medications, like Ritalin or Concerta, but not had any luck? Wellbutrin could be your solution—and don’t let the fact that it’s an antidepressant scare you off.
What is Wellbutrin?
Wellbutrin (bupropion) is an antidepressant that is sometimes used off-label to treat symptoms of ADHD. It’s approved to treat depression, seasonal affective disorder, and to help people quit smoking. It works by blocking dopamine and norepinephrine from being reabsorbed into the brain. That increases levels of these neurotransmitters, which can help boost mood and alleviate other symptoms.
Is Wellbutrin FDA-approved for ADHD?
Wellbutrin is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat ADHD.
There are many stimulant medications that are FDA-approved to treat ADHD. Stimulant medications are considered the first-line treatment for ADHD because they alleviate symptoms for 70% to 80% of people. Non-stimulant medications are second- or third-line treatments that patients can try if stimulants don’t work. FDA-approved non-stimulants that treat ADHD include: Strattera (atomoxetine), Intuniv (guanfacine), and Kapvay (clonidine).
Antidepressants, like Wellbutrin, are prescribed off-label to treat ADHD because they increase dopamine and norepinephrine—two neurotransmitters that are commonly low in ADHD brains. It’s legal, and accepted practice, to prescribe medications off-label if research shows they could help a condition. Some research shows that Wellbutrin works for people with ADHD, ages 18 and older.
“Different ADHD meds work for different people, and against different symptoms,” says Melissa Orlov, author of The ADHD Effect on Marriage. “Some symptoms of ADHD can be better managed with Wellbutrin than others. And some don’t tolerate stimulants.”
Does Wellbutrin help ADHD?
“Research says that it does, though at lower effect levels than many stimulant meds,” explains Orlov. “But if it works for you, then whether or not it works for others is irrelevant.”
Stimulants don’t work for everyone, and some people can’t take them because of another health condition, such as certain kinds of heart problems. If you or your child are among the 20% to 30% they don’t help, or stimulants cause serious side effects, Wellbutrin might be a good option.
“Bupropion is an excellent choice for individuals with ADHD who have co-occurring mood disorders, such as depression, and would like to try one agent. Data suggests bupropion improves not only the depression but also the ADHD,” says Timothy Wilens, MD, chief of the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“Bupropion is also an excellent second-line choice for individuals who have substance use issues and/or concerns of misuse of stimulants and who the practitioner, family, or patient themselves wants to avoid stimulants,” Dr. Wilens explains. “While not as effective as a stimulant, bupropion used at standard antidepressant dosing can be helpful in mitigating the symptoms and impairment related to ADHD.”
Dose and forms of Wellbutrin for ADHD
Wellbutrin XL is the form most commonly prescribed for ADHD, since it lasts throughout the day.
Wellbutrin is one brand name of bupropion. Other names include: Aplenzin, Budeprion SR, Budeprion XL, Buproban, Forfivo XL, Wellbutrin SR, Wellbutrin XL, and Zyban. SR indicates sustained release, XL indicates extended release.
Bupropion is available in the following forms and dosage options:
- Bupropion hydrochloride tablet, immediate release: 75 mg, 100 mg
- Bupropion hydrochloride tablet, sustained release 12 hour: 100 mg, 150 mg, 200 mg
- Bupropion hydrochloride tablet, extended release 24 hour: 150 mg, 300 mg, 450mg
- Bupropion hydrobromide tablet, extended release 24 hour: 174 mg, 348 mg, 522 mg
The specific dose varies by individual. Its safety has not been established for anyone under age 18. It’s important to note that it takes up to 4 weeks for a dosage of Wellbutrin to reach full effect, and it may take several months to find the correct dosage for you. Additionally, you should never stop taking Wellbutrin without consulting with your physician.
Side effects of Wellbutrin
One of the reasons physicians prescribe Wellbutrin for ADHD is because most patients don’t experience any side effects. When they do, the side effects are mild, and often fade after the first few weeks.
Common side effects of Wellbutrin are:
- Weight loss
- Dry mouth
- Difficulty sleeping
- Sore throat
This is not a complete list of side effects. Wellbutrin can have dangerous interactions with certain medications. Always speak with your doctor or pharmacist about your medications, and read the prescription information included with your medication.
Risks of taking Wellbutrin
Wellbutrin has a black box warning on suicidality from the FDA. That means it can possibly increase risk of suicide or suicidal thoughts in children, teens, and young adults. Wellbutrin is not considered safe to take while pregnant or nursing, as it can pass into breast milk.
Call your doctor if you have any of these other rare, but potentially serious, side effects:
- Skin rash
- Fast heartbeat
- Ringing in the ears
- Stomach pain
- Changes in behavior or mood, or racing thoughts
- Blurred vision, eye pain, or halos around lights
- Sexual side effects
There is a low risk of seizures for people with a history of epilepsy, brain injury, substance abuse, or eating disorders. There is a low risk of heart problems, especially for people with high blood pressure or heart disease.
This is not a complete list of risks. If you think Wellbutrin could be right for you, talk to your primary care doctor about your treatment options. Be sure to share any other medications you’re taking, and any other health concerns—in addition to ADHD.
Wellbutrin vs Adderall
Wellbutrin and Adderall (mixed amphetamine salts) are both medications that treat ADHD.
Wellbutrin is an antidepressant that is used off-label. Adderall is a stimulant medication that is FDA-approved to treat ADHD.
They are different classes of drugs that act on the body in different ways, and have different side effects. Common side effects of Wellbutrin are headache, weight loss, dry mouth, difficulty sleeping, nausea, dizziness, constipation, fast heartbeat, and sore throat. Common side effects of Adderall include: nervousness, headache, changes in sex drive or ability, painful menstrual cramps, dry mouth, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and weight loss.
Different ADHD medications work for different people. If stimulant medications, like Adderall, don’t work for you or your child, options like Wellbutrin are another treatment choice.