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BusPar (buspirone) vs. Wellbutrin (bupropion): What’s the difference?

BusPar (buspirone) vs. Wellbutrin (bupropion): What’s the difference?

Reviewed by:
Divya Khosla, MD
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April 30, 2024
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Key takeaways

If you’ve been diagnosed with anxiety or are experiencing anxiety symptoms, like constantly worrying or feeling like something bad will happen, medications can help. Two examples that psychiatrists prescribe are BusPar and Wellbutrin.  

In this article, we’ll look at how BusPar and Wellbutrin work for anxiety, their side effects, and the key differences between these two mental health medications. Remember that treatment should be personalized, and your doctor will help you decide which one might be a good option for you.


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What is BusPar (buspirone)?

Buspar is the brand name for the medication buspirone, which has been approved by the FDA to treat anxiety disorders. Psychiatrists may prescribe it when other medicines haven't worked or made you feel worse because of their side effects. Your doctor might also prescribe because it is less likely to cause the sexual side effects that can happen when taking an SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors).  

Buspar works by changing the level of certain chemical messengers (like serotonin) in the brain that regulate your mood. By balancing these neurotransmitters, as they are called, Buspar helps reduce symptoms of anxiety. (More on that later.)

However, Buspar does not interact with GABA receptors in the brain like benzodiazepines and barbiturates do, which can lead to physical dependence or withdrawal symptoms. This makes Buspar a safer option, and you can feel more confident in taking it without the same risks of misusing it. Plus, if you happen to miss a dose or stop taking Buspar suddenly, you're less likely to encounter uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, unlike with those medications, like Xanax (alprazolam).

What is Wellbutrin (bupropion)?

Wellbutrin is the brand name for the antidepressant bupropion, which is FDA-approved to treat depression and seasonal affective disorder. It is also approved to help people quit smoking.

It’s also used off-label for other reasons, such as:

Differences between BusPar and Wellbutrin

While Wellbutrin and Buspar are both second-line treatments for anxiety (not a psychiatrist’s primary treatment option), they have several key differences. Here’s a look at them at a glance, and we’ll dive into more detail below.

Buspar (buspirone) Wellbutrin (bupropion)
What is it FDA-approved to treat? Anxiety disorders Depression, seasonal affective disorder, quitting smoking
What are its off-label uses? Anxiety and depression, and adjunctive for treatment resistant depression Bipolar depression, ADHD, and sexual dysfunction
How does it work? Interacts with mostly serotonin receptors in the brain. Affects levels of brain chemicals norepinephrine, and dopamine.
How long does it take to work? 2-4 weeks 2 weeks; up to 6 weeks for full effects
How much does it cost? Around $12 for thirty 15 mg tablets. Around $17 for thirty 150 mg extended-release tablets

How they work

Certain anxiety medications can reduce your symptoms by changing the level of chemical messengers in your brain. Buspar mostly alters the level of serotonin , while Wellbutrin changes the level of norepinephrine and dopamine. Serotonin affects your mood and sleep, and norepinephrine is involved in alertness and attention. Meanwhile dopamine plays a role in the brain’s “reward center,” and also affects your mood, memory, and attention.

Both medications help make more of these neurotransmitters active in your brain. (Studies have found that a low level of these chemicals might be in part responsible for feelings of depression or anxiety, though they’re not the sole cause.) Ultimately, when you take either medicine, it can help relieve your anxiety symptoms so you feel better.

Their effectiveness

Clinical trials show that Buspar may be an effective treatment for generalized anxiety disorder. Buspar might be a better alternative than benzodiazepines due to similar potential for similar benefit, and less of a potential for side effects and addiction.

When it comes to Wellbutrin, there is limited evidence on whether it helps with anxiety disorders and there is more evidence showing that it’s better for the treatment of depression and other conditions. While it may not be right for everyone, your doctor will help you figure out if it’s a good option for you.  

Common side effects

Just like any other medicine, Buspar and Wellbutrin can cause side effects. These side effects can occur as your body adjusts to the medication, but they should go away over time. Make sure to let your doctor know if you're having any side effects, especially if they persist. They’ll work with you to minimize these risks, and if you have concerns about certain effects, reach out to them.

BusPar

The most common side effect of Buspar is dizziness, which occurs in more than 10% of people taking it.

Less common side effects include:

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nervousness
  • Sedation and drowsiness
  • Excitement
  • Nausea
  • Restlessness

Wellbutrin

The most common side effects of Wellbutrin, which occurred in more 10%, include:

  • Rapid heart rate or increased blood pressure
  • Insomnia, headache, feeling agitated, dizziness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Weight loss
  • Constipation, dry mouth, nausea
  • Tremor
  • Tinnitus (ear ringing)

Less commonly, people taking Wellbutrin have an increased risk of seizure, or suicidal thoughts and behavior. The immediate-release version especially in higher doses, comes with the highest risk of seizures.

Who should not take these medications

There are some cases where Buspar and Wellbutrin may not be right for you. Certain medications or health conditions can put you more at risk for specific adverse effects or can decrease their effectiveness. Before your doctor prescribes you Buspar or Wellbutrin they’ll consider your health history, in addition to your symptoms, to make sure it’s safe for you to take.

                                                                                                               
When to avoid Wellbutrin Buspar
You previously had an allergic reaction to this medication x x
You took MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) within the last two weeks x x
You’re taking MAOIs like linezolid or IV methylene blue x x
You have a seizure disorder, or a higher risk for them (because of head injury, severe stroke, or brain tumor) x
You have depression and are being monitored for suicidal thoughts or behaviors x
You have kidney or liver disease x

How much they cost

The cost of both medications will vary depending on your dosage, pharmacy, and insurance. Buspar (buspirone) costs around $12 for thirty 15-mg tablets and Wellbutrin (bupropion) costs around $17 for thirty 150-mg extended-release tablets. Generic versions of medication tend to be cheaper. To get a better idea how much you’ll pay, reach out to the pharmacy or insurance provider for more details.  


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Which one is better for anxiety?

While one person may respond better to Buspar than Wellbutrin, or vice versa, that may not necessarily be the case for you. That’s because there is no best medication for everyone. Before prescribing you one or the other, your doctor will talk to you about your anxiety symptoms, any prescription medications and supplements you’re taking, and your overall health. Then they’ll work with you to choose a medication that can help you manage your symptoms.

Wellbutrin can work effectively as a treatment for generalized anxiety disorder if you have major depression as well. Meanwhile Buspar can be particularly useful if you’re concerned about anti-anxiety medications like benzodiazepines that have a risk of dependence. Both options take about the same amount of time (around 2-4 weeks to reach the maximum benefits).

Anxiety is complex, so treatment for this condition should be personalized to fit your needs. That’s why a psychiatrist is key. With Talkiatry, you can see a psychiatrist from the comfort of your home. Our doctors will work with you to create a comprehensive treatment plan that’s tailored for you. To get started, take our free online assessment and be matched with the right psychiatrist for your needs.

Can you take both at the same time?

Both Buspar and Wellbutrin may be prescribed alone or in combination with another anxiety medication, such as an SSRI. However, in some cases your doctor may recommend that you take them together. SSRIs like Zoloft (sertraline) and Lexapro (escitalopram)

Disclaimer: The information in this article is for education and informational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.

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Frequently asked questions

Does Talkiatry take my insurance?

We're in network with major insurers, including:

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Can I get an estimate of my visit cost?

The best way to get a detailed estimate of your cost is to contact your insurance company directly, since your cost will depend on the details of your insurance.  

For some, it’s just a co-pay. If you have an unmet deductible it could be more.  

Call the number on your insurance card and ask about your plan’s coverage for outpatient psychiatric services.

How does Talkiatry compare to face-to-face treatment?

For most patients, Talkiatry treatment is just as effective as in-person psychiatry (American Psychiatric Association, 2021), and much more convenient. That said, we don’t currently provide treatment for schizophrenia, primary eating disorder treatment, or Medication Assisted Treatment for substance use disorders.

What kind of treatment does Talkiatry provide?

At Talkiatry, we specialize in psychiatry, meaning the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions. Your psychiatrist will meet with you virtually on a schedule you set together, devise a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs and preferences, and work with you to adjust your plan as you meet your goals.

If your treatment plan includes medication, your psychiatrist will prescribe and manage it. If needed, your psychiatrist can also refer you to a Talkiatry therapist.

What's the difference between a therapist and psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are doctors who have specialized training in diagnosing and treating complex mental health conditions through medication management. If you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, or similar, a psychiatrist may be a good place to start.  

Other signs that you should see a psychiatrist include:  

  • Your primary care doctor or another doctor thinks you may benefit from the services of a psychiatrist and provides a referral    
  • You are interested in taking medication to treat a mental health condition  
  • Your symptoms are severe enough to regularly interfere with your everyday life

The term “therapist” can apply to a range of professionals including social workers, mental health counselors, psychologists, professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, and psychoanalysts. Working with a therapist generally involves regular talk therapy sessions where you discuss your feelings, problem-solving strategies, and coping mechanisms to help with your condition.

Who can prescribe medication?

All our psychiatrists (and all psychiatrists in general) are medical doctors with additional training in mental health. They can prescribe any medication they think can help their patients. In order to find out which medications might be appropriate, they need to conduct a full evaluation. At Talkiatry, first visits are generally scheduled for 60 minutes or more to give your psychiatrist time to learn about you, work on a treatment plan, and discuss any medications that might be included.

About
Divya Khosla, MD

Dr. Divya Khosla, MD, is a board certified Adult Psychiatrist and board eligible Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist. She received her undergraduate degree from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and her medical degree from Ross University, completing all of her clinicals in Maryland, D.C., and NYC. She completed her adult psychiatry residency at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Then she returned to the east coast, where she completed her child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, New York.

Dr. Khosla has participated in a variety of innovative academic clinical research, and has presented research at annual national meetings of the American Psychiatric Association. Her robust clinical experience with varying demographics at different clinical sites around the country has allowed her to treat patients in an evidence-based way, tailoring treatment to an individual’s specific needs.

Although Dr. Khosla’s practice focuses on medication management, she also implements supportive therapy and motivational interviewing in sessions to allow for a more comprehensive approach to treatment. Her clinical interests include depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, and ADHD.

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