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What is Bupropion (Wellbutrin)?

Bupropion is primarily used to treat mental health problems such as major depressive disorder and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Doctors may also prescribe it to help patients quit smoking. 

The drug is in a class of medications called antidepressants. Bupropion works by increasing specific types of activity in the brain. The most popular brand name for bupropion is Wellbutrin. Zyban is another common option (the marketed version for smoking cessation).

Bupropion is sometimes used to treat patients with bipolar disorder who are experiencing episodes of depression. Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depressive disorder (MDD), is a disease that leads to episodes of depression and mania, and other abnormal moods. 

Wellbutrin may also treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). People with ADHD often have difficulty focusing, controlling their actions, and keeping still or quiet than other people of the same age.

Doctors may also prescribe bupropion for other uses.

Side Effects of Bupropion

Bupropion can lead to common side effects. Speak with your doctor for medical advice if any of the following common side effects of Wellbutrin are severe or persist.

  • Drowsiness
  • Anxiety
  • Excitement
  • Difficulty falling asleep or remaining asleep
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Uncontrollable shaking of a body part
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Constipation
  • Excessive sweating
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Adjustments in your sense of taste
  • Frequent urination
  • Sore throat

Some side effects of Wellbutrin can be more serious. Call your doctor immediately or seek emergency help if you experience any of the following serious side effects:

  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Hallucination (seeing things or hearing voices that do not exist)
  • Irrational fears
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Fast, pounding, or irregular heartbeat
  • Fever
  • Rash or blisters
  • Itching
  • Hives
  • Swelling of the face, throat, tongue, lips, hands, feet, ankles, eyes, or lower legs
  • Hoarseness
  • Problems breathing or swallowing
  • Chest pain

Wellbutrin may lead to other side effects. Speak with your doctor for medical advice if you have any unusual issues while taking this medication.

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What Happens if You Drink Alcohol with Bupropion?

Alcohol is sometimes used to mask or self-medicate the symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD). However, drinking alcohol with an antidepressant such as Wellbutrin can cause dangerous interactions.

Regularly drinking alcohol with any medicine can be a sign of alcohol misuse and addiction. Many people who struggle with substance abuse have a co-occurring mental illness or disorder, such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Most antidepressants don’t mix well with alcohol, especially not in significant quantities. Wellbutrin is an atypical antidepressant. This means it is different from many antidepressants, like selective serotonin uptake inhibitors and tricyclic antidepressants.

Wellbutrin can also interact differently with alcohol compared to other antidepressants. If you do not consume alcohol often, drinking alcohol with the drug can increase your risk of certain health problems. For example, the risk of seizures is higher.

If you drink heavily, stopping while consuming Wellbutrin can lead to similar serious side effects.
Bupropion and Alcohol Side Effects

Consuming alcohol while taking bupropion can lead to higher risks of other health issues. As alcohol is a depressant, it slows your central nervous system down, including your brain.

The side effects of taking bupropion and alcohol together include:

  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Restlessness
  • Incoordination

Drinking alcohol while taking bupropion can also intensify the side effects of the drug. Additionally, consuming alcohol with Wellbutrin can counteract the positive effects of Wellbutrin on depression. This may lead to more severe symptoms of depression and suicidal thoughts.

Risks & Dangers of Mixing Bupropion and Alcohol

Alcohol is a depressant and should be used with caution. This is especially relevant for those who are struggling with depression and are taking medication for their disorder. Consuming alcohol with an antidepressant medication like bupropion increases both drugs' side effects and the chances of developing alcohol addiction.

Seizures are a rare but severe side effect of mixing bupropion with alcohol. The risk of seizures while taking Wellbutrin increases in people who:

  • Having an underlying health condition that causes seizures
  • Have an eating disorder
  • Are consuming high doses of Wellbutrin
  • Are drinking excessive quantities of alcohol
  • Are experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms

Severe risks and dangers when mixing bupropion and alcohol, like seizures, vary for each individual. In most cases, it is best to avoid alcohol completely when taking bupropion.

If you regularly consume a lot of alcohol or have an alcohol use disorder (AUD), abruptly stopping can result in alcohol withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms are potentially life-threatening if they are not managed correctly.

Experiencing alcohol withdrawal while taking bupropion, leads to higher risks of experiencing a seizure, along with other severe side effects. These side effects include:

  • Extreme shaking and tremors
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia

To reduce your risks of having a seizure or other severe side effects while taking bupropion, you must be honest with your doctor or healthcare provider about your drinking habits.

Be sure to tell your doctor the following:

  • The types of alcohol you drink
  • How much alcohol you drink at once
  • How much alcohol you consume on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis
  • How long you’ve been drinking this amount

If you take bupropion and wonder how it will interact with alcohol, be sure to ask your doctor. Always be open about the amount of alcohol you consume.

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Treatment for Bupropion and Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous. Due to some of the alcohol withdrawal symptoms' severe nature, a medically supervised detox is necessary to treat patients. A medically supervised detox program allows the patient to manage the withdrawal stage and progress to recovery safely.

Medical detox programs are also likely to include medication-assisted treatment and help in arranging a long-term treatment plan.

For detox to be successful, healthcare providers must work with the patient toward developing the next steps in recovery. This includes highlighting some of the types of treatment facilities and options available. 

Some options of treatment typically found in alcohol rehab centers include:

Inpatient Programs

Inpatient programs are residential. They typically provide temporary living for patients during recovery. Inpatient programs offer a safe and structured environment where members can embrace sober living skills with plenty of support.

Therapies during inpatient programs may include:

  • Group and individual counseling
  • 12-step support groups
  • Wellness care
  • Holistic therapies such as yoga and meditation

Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs)

Another type of alcohol and substance treatment is partial hospitalization programs. These facilities offer daytime treatment programs that typically take place five days per week or six hours per day.

PHPs involve addiction education, family therapy counseling, and medication-assisted treatment in a safe and supervised environment.

Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP)

Intensive outpatient programs (IOP) offer the most flexible treatment options for alcohol and substance addiction. Sessions are usually offered in the morning or evenings rather than a full day.

IOPs offer many of the same treatments as other types of rehab facilities. However, they may also have additional requirements, such as regular drug screens, to maintain accountability and help patients recover.

Resources

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Bupropion, MedlinePlus, October 2020, https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a695033.html 

LABEL: BUPROPION HYDROCHLORIDE tablet, DailyMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, November 2019, https://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/drugInfo.cfm?setid=e4100232-a25d-4468-9057-af7e66205154 

WELLBUTRIN XL® (WELL byu-trin) (bupropion hydrochloride) Extended-Release tablets, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), https://www.fda.gov/media/76996/download 

Silverstone, Peter H et al., Alcohol significantly lowers the seizure threshold in mice when co-administered with bupropion hydrochloride., Annals of general psychiatry vol. 7 11. 18 Aug. 2008, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2531112/

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