Is Wellbutrin a Narcotic?

Wellbutrin is the brand name of a medication called bupropion. Bupropion is available by prescription, as an antidepressant and smoking cessation aid. In the U.S. and Canada, it’s one of the most widely prescribed antidepressants. Wellbutrin is also prescribed for the treatment of seasonal affective disorder or SAD, especially in fall and winter. Despite the benefits, there has been antidotal evidence that Wellbutrin may have a potential to be misused. So, is Wellbutrin a narcotic?

Is Wellbutrin a Narcotic?

Article at a Glance:  

  • Wellbutrin (brand name for bupropion) is a prescription medication used for depression and smoking cessation.  
  • Wellbutrin works differently than other antidepressants and may also treat anxiety.  
  • No, Wellbutrin is not a narcotic because it does not bind to opioid receptors. 
  • However, there is potential for misuse with Wellbutrin because it can act as a stimulant and cause physical dependence.  
  • Overall, Wellbutrin is a generally safe and well-tolerated prescription but should only be taken as directed by a physician.
Wellbutrin is believed to work on patients differently than many other commonly prescribed antidepressants. Wellbutrin is part of a specific class of antidepressants called aminoketones. There are chemical differences between aminoketones and drugs like Zoloft and Paxil, which are selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs. Wellbutrin affects certain levels of brain neurotransmitters—specifically, dopamine and norepinephrine.

While primarily used for depression and to help people stop smoking, one off-label use of Wellbutrin is treating anxiety disorders. This medication can be particularly useful in patients who have both depression and anxiety according to some reports. However, information is mixed on the use of Wellbutrin for anxiety. Other reports show Wellbutrin can cause new or worse anxiety in some people, especially if they are being treated for depression.

As with most prescription drugs, there are possible risks of Wellbutrin. One is the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors, particularly in children, teens and young adults. This warning isn’t exclusive to Wellbutrin and is included with most antidepressants. When young people are prescribed Wellbutrin, it’s important for the people around them to watch for unusual changes in mood. One unique side effect of Wellbutrin compared to other antidepressants is weight loss. Most other antidepressants can cause weight gain, while anecdotal evidence shows Wellbutrin is linked to weight loss. Despite this possible effect, Wellbutrin isn’t currently approved by the FDA as a weight management drug.

Wellbutrin has a lengthy list of common side effects. Some of these include constipation, headache, nausea and vomiting, sweating, dizziness, tremors, insomnia, hostility and changes in heartbeat. Severe side effects are possible as well including irregular heartbeat, seizures, hallucinations, and anorexia. People are advised not to drink alcohol while on Wellbutrin, or at least should keep their intake minimal. There are possible drug interactions between Wellbutrin and other antidepressants, especially SSRIs.

Narcotics are a specific class of drugs, also known as opioids. Narcotics include prescription painkillers and the street drug heroin. Narcotics are derived from opium or are synthesized in a way that makes them have effects similar to opium-based drugs. This drug class affects the central nervous system by binding to certain receptors located there. Narcotics relieve pain, but they are also highly addictive and can cause a fatal overdose because they lower breathing rates. Narcotics especially suppress respiration when used at high doses.

People wonder, is Wellbutrin a narcotic? There is some confusion about Wellbutrin being a narcotic because it does have the potential for misuse. However, Wellbutrin isn’t a narcotic. It affects neurotransmitters in the brain, but it doesn’t bind to opioid receptors as narcotics do. Wellbutrin also isn’t a controlled substance in the sense that narcotics are.

While Wellbutrin isn’t a narcotic, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the potential for misuse. For the most part, Wellbutrin is considered to be a relatively safe antidepressant. However, since Wellbutrin affects the “feel-good” brain neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine, it is sometimes taken to achieve a stimulant-like high. When Wellbutrin is taken in high doses or in dangerous ways, such as intravenously, it may act similarly to a stimulant. People who use Wellbutrin recreationally may have doses up to 1200 mg at a time, while the maximum daily dose of the drug is 450 mg for prescription use.

Along with injecting Wellbutrin, some recreational users will crush the tablets to snort them. This provides all of the effects of the drug directly into the bloodstream at one time and bypasses the time-release elements of Wellbutrin. It’s extremely dangerous, however, and can cause serious health problems. For example, Wellbutrin can be caustic when it’s injected. It can damage tissues significantly as a result. In some places, such as Canada, recreational Wellbutrin use has led to the rise of the nickname “poor man’s cocaine.”

Another reason Wellbutrin is often confused with or compared to narcotics is because it does cause physical dependence in many users. Physical dependence isn’t the same as a psychological addiction. Dependence means the person’s body depends on the presence of the drug. If someone is dependent on Wellbutrin and tries to stop using it suddenly, they may go through withdrawal. The potential for withdrawal makes it important that the person taking the drug doesn’t stop taking Wellbutrin suddenly without speaking to their healthcare professional. As with other antidepressants, a doctor will usually recommend patients taper down their dosage of Wellbutrin gradually.

For the most part, Wellbutrin is considered a relatively safe and well-tolerated antidepressant. It’s not a narcotic, but there has been a rise in misuse of the drug, especially lately. When taken in high doses or illicit ways such as injecting dissolved tablets, some people may experience a stimulant-like high. Taking Wellbutrin in this way can be dangerous or deadly, however. Wellbutrin isn’t a narcotic, and it’s not especially addictive, but it can lead to physical dependence, so patients should be aware of this when taking it. As with any prescription drug, it should be taken only as directed by a physician.

If you or a loved one is struggling with the weight of an addiction to prescription drugs or anything else, get in touch with The Recovery Village. Whether you just want to ask questions, learn more, or get specific information about going to treatment and how to pay for it, we’re here to provide you with answers.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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