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Dangers of Mixing Alcohol and Wellbutrin

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Wellbutrin (bupropion) is an antidepressant used to treat mood disorders, including major depression and seasonal affective disorder. Research has revealed depression and alcoholism have a close and complex relationship, so it’s not unusual for antidepressant drugs such as Wellbutrin to be misused with alcohol. Unfortunately, alcohol adversely interacts with many of these medications, reducing their efficacy and increasing the risk of severe side effects. For this reason and others, individuals experiencing co-occurring disorders tend to benefit most from integrated treatment that simultaneously addresses both conditions.

At Guardian Recovery, we offer drug and alcohol treatment programs facilitated by highly skilled, compassionate staff with years of experience treating substance use and mental health disorders. We customize our treatment plans with our client’s individual needs in mind and offer a variety of care levels, evidence-based therapies, holistic activities, medication-assisted treatment, and more.

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What Is Wellbutrin?

Wellbutrin is a type of atypical antidepressant known as an NDRI (norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitor). (1) It’s commonly prescribed to treat major depressive disorder, seasonal affective disorder, and smoking cessation. Unlike the two most popular antidepressants, SSRIs (e.g., Zoloft) and SNRIs (e.g., Cymbalta), which affect serotonin, Wellbutrin is believed to improve dopamine levels.

NDRIs like Wellbutrin are often prescribed to patients who have not responded to other antidepressants (e.g., SSRIs) or have experienced serious side effects associated with them. Its desired results include improved mood and overall sense of well-being.

Side Effects of Wellbutrin Include:

  • Lethargy.
  • Excitement or anxiety.
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Headache.
  • Upset stomach and vomiting.
  • Weight fluctuations.
  • Constipation.
  • Frequent urination.
  • Sore throat.
  • Shakiness.
  • Profuse sweating.

Uncommonly, Wellbutrin can cause severe and potentially lethal complications. If you or someone you know is exhibiting any of the following signs or symptoms, seek emergency medical attention immediately.

Severe Side Effects of Wellbutrin Include:

  • Disorientation.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Paranoia.
  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Seizures.
  • Joint pain.

Risks of Mixing Wellbutrin & Alcohol

Combining Wellbutrin and alcohol can result in severe effects, most of which result from the compounded impact of using two central nervous system (CNS) depressants.

Risks of Using Wellbutrin & Alcohol Include:

  • Increased side effects of Wellbutrin and/or alcohol
  • Alcohol poisoning.
  • Confusion.
  • Impaired judgment and memory.
  • Mood swings.
  • Visual and auditory impairment.
  • Anxiety.
  • Depression and suicidality.
  • Headache.
  • Drowsiness and fatigue.
  • Dizziness.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Seizures.
  • Dry mouth.

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Increased Drowsiness, Dizziness & Associated Dangers

Due to the CNS-depressing effects of alcohol intoxication and Wellbutrin, dizziness and drowsiness may be more likely to occur with concurrent use. Alcohol’s ability to impair motor skills and attention might also be amplified when drinking is paired with an antidepressant like Wellbutrin.

All these effects increase a person’s risk of severe injury or death during activities that require hand-eye coordination and focus, such as driving or operating heavy machinery. Even everyday tasks such as navigating stairs can be dangerous under this level of intoxication, increasing the likelihood of falling or sustaining injuries.

Long-Term Effects of Combining Wellbutrin & Alcohol

In both the short- and long-term, using Wellbutrin with alcohol can increase the unwanted effects of either substance and raise the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. Also, like many antidepressants, stopping a course of Wellbutrin without a tapering schedule can lead to a discontinuation syndrome consisting of withdrawal effects similar to other potentially addictive drugs. (5) (6) Alcohol use can also reduce Wellbutrin’s effectiveness and increase the risk of overdose.

The development of dependence, which can occur after chronic alcohol misuse, will result in mild-severe withdrawal effects when a person stops drinking abruptly. For this reason, medical detox is the recommended first step in recovery to reduce the likelihood of severe or life-threatening withdrawal complications, such as hypertension, cardiovascular issues, hallucinations, and delirium tremens. (7) Furthermore, individuals may be at an exceptionally high risk of seizures with the combined use of alcohol and Wellbutrin or withdrawal because both substances have been associated with this risk.

medically-supervised detox allows clinicians to monitor patients throughout the withdrawal process and administer medications to minimize the risks involved. This method is considered the most effective, safe, and comfortable way to detox from drugs or alcohol.

Co-Occurring Depression & Alcohol Use

Several factors contribute to the intricate association between depression and alcohol dependence. These include underlying biological and genetic predisposition, familial history of either disorder and because the two conditions drive one another cyclically. According to a 2009 data analysis, the lifetime prevalence of major depression among alcohol-dependent women was nearly one-half (48.5%) and one-quarter (24.3%) among men. When an individual experiences two such disorders, this is also referred to as a dual diagnosis. (8)

In another study, researchers concluded that “alcohol dependence is associated with major depression” and found the depression rate among alcohol-dependent persons was nearly two-thirds (64%). (9) Wellbutrin is the third most commonly prescribed antidepressant in the U.S. (10) This suggests alcohol dependence may be prevalent among individuals using this medication. As noted, Wellbutrin has been associated with potentially severe side effects and complications when taken with alcohol, including seizures.

Alcohol misuse can also interfere with Wellbutrin’s effectiveness and ability to reduce depressive symptoms. Drinking can cause pre-existing depression to worsen and produce new symptoms in those with or without a depression diagnosis, such as patients using Wellbutrin for smoking cessation. (11)

Treating Alcohol Dependence & Depression

Treatment focusing on alcohol misuse that neglects depression results in a higher risk of relapse. Conversely, treating depression while ignoring an AUD can increase the likelihood of a recurrence of depressive symptoms, as alcohol misuse has been known to trigger sadness and depression directly. (12) Moreover, it’s essential to re-examine the mental health issues a person is experiencing that led to the need for Wellbutrin. If a depressive disorder is undertreated, it can prompt self-medication above and beyond what the prescribed medication provides.

According to the National Institutes of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, treatment providers should include integrated methods such as behavioral therapy, pharmacology, and support groups in individualized treatment plans for patients with co-occurring alcohol use disorders and mental health conditions. Also, these plans “should account for the severity of each disorder and for patient preference regarding interventions.” (13)

At Guardian Recovery, we incorporate these and other integrated approaches in our customized treatment plans to ensure dual diagnoses are appropriately addressed, and all health issues receive the attention they deserve.

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Comprehensive Programs for Dual Diagnosis Disorders

If you’ve tried multiple times to cut back or quit drinking, you may have an alcohol use disorder that would benefit from professional treatment. In addition to interfering with medications you’re taking to treat depression, alcohol misuse can tremendously impact your overall physical, mental, and emotional wellness. The best way to address these issues is to seek a clinical assessment from treatment specialists who can devise an individualized plan that will most effectively facilitate your recovery.

Guardian Recovery is dedicated to providing our clients with the most comprehensive care and support available to treat co-occurring disorders such as alcohol dependence and depression. Contact us today to speak with an experienced Treatment Advisor and be provided with a free, no-obligation assessment and health benefits check. Reach out and learn more about our treatment programs and begin your recovery journey today!

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

(1)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC514842/ (2)https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/ssris/art-20044825 (3)https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/antidepressants/art-20044970 (4)https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-cns-depressants (5)https://www.pharmacytoday.org/article/S1042-0991(16)30172-4/fulltext (6)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC181057/ (7)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6761824/ (8)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4864601/ (9)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3658562/ (10)https://www.definitivehc.com/resources/healthcare-insights/top-antidepressants-by-prescription-volume (11)https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/antidepressants-and-alcohol/faq-20058231 (12)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6876499/ (13)https://arcr.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-use-disorder-and-co-occurring-mental-health-conditions/integrating-treatment-co-occurring-mental-health-conditions#article-toc4

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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