How long does it take for Wellbutrin to work? 5 signs it's working

How long does it take for Wellbutrin to work? 5 signs it's working

Reviewed by:
Austin Lin, MD
Staff Psychiatrist
at Talkiatry
February 9, 2024

Wellbutrin, a type of antidepressant medication, is used to treat mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and ADHD. If you’ve been prescribed Wellbutrin, you’re probably eager to start feeling better and wondering when you will finally feel relief from your symptoms.

Wellbutrin doesn’t kick in immediately, but you should start to notice small changes in your symptoms over the course of several weeks, with more improvement in symptoms as time goes on or as your dose is increased. Some people report feeling lighter, like the cloud of depression has lifted, after they start taking it.

Here we’ll talk about more in-depth about how you can tell Wellbutrin is working and when you can expect to start feeling like yourself again.  

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An overview of Wellbutrin

Wellbutrin is a brand name for the drug bupropion—a type of antidepressant known as an “atypical” antidepressant. Most antidepressants work by increasing levels of serotonin in your brain, but Wellbutrin works by increasing levels of dopamine and norepinephrine—two neurotransmitters or brain chemicals that are responsible for keeping you energized, alert, and motivated.  

Wellbutrin is FDA-approved to treat major depressive disorder (MDD), seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and help with smoking cessation. Some doctors will also use it to treat other mental health conditions such as ADHD, and bipolar depression. These are referred to as “off-label” uses—meaning the FDA has not approved the medication for this specific purpose but some doctors feel that there is enough evidence to support their use.

Wellbutrin may also be prescribed with other antidepressants because it has been found to help relieve low sex drive, drowsiness, and weight gain, which are common side effects of other antidepressants.

Because Wellbutrin works a little differently than other antidepressants, like SSRIs or SNRIs, doctors may prescribe it only if other antidepressants haven’t worked for you. Your doctor's, recommendation will vary depending on your needs though, in some cases it may be the first medication your doctor recommends, or it may be added onto other medications you’re already on to help them work better.  

How long does it take for Wellbutrin to work?

If you’ve been prescribed Wellbutrin to treat depression, it may take 2 weeks before you start to feel a change in your symptoms and it can take up to 4-6 weeks to feel the maximum benefit of a particular dose. Keep in mind though, finding an effective dose for you is a process. Since everyone responds differently to medication, your  healthcare professional will likely start you on the lowest possible effective dose of Wellbutrin and then increase your dose slowly, as needed.  

The wait between dose adjustments can feel frustrating, but finding the right dose of medication safely is always worth it. Lower doses of medication tend to come with a lower risk of side effects.  

If you’ve already started the process of finding the right dose—hang in there! You’re well on your way to feeling better. If you haven’t started medication just yet, it’s a good idea to mentally prepare for the process. Healing is a journey, and your psychiatrist or doctor will be there to support you through it.

5 Signs Wellbutrin is working

Every person and every brain is different. So signs that a medication is working can be different for everyone. Especially early on in taking a new medication, it’s important to have follow-ups with your psychiatrist to track how you’re feeling. They can help make sure that you’re seeing the positive effects you’re looking for and answer any questions you have about possible side effects.  

Wellbutrin usually takes about 1-2 weeks to take effect, but if it’s taking longer than 2 weeks to work, don’t worry. Let your doctor know. Sometimes it takes a little time for your body to adjust.  

Improved mood

One of the main reasons to take Wellbutrin is to lessen depressed feelings. This could mean less intense feeling, or less frequent feelings. Sometimes it can be hard to gauge your own mood accurately. One approach is to start tracking your mood on a daily basis. This can help you identify what’s affecting your mood, any side effects you’re experiencing, and patterns you’re noticing. Then, you can share all of this with your psychiatrist, who can better guide your treatment.

Many people lose interest in hanging out with friends or doing things in general, when they’re depressed. You can also tell if your mood is improving by assessing whether you want to go to hang out with friends or find enjoyment from your hobbies again. If you notice you’re inclined to picking up that book you never finished or eagerly meeting a friend for coffee, these can be encouraging signs that Wellbutrin has started to take effect.

Increased focus and concentration

It's common to experience difficulties with focus and concentration when dealing with depression and anxiety. However, once you start taking Wellbutrin, you might notice a positive change where you're able to pay attention again and stay on task, whether it's at work, school, or any other daily activities. This improvement in focus and concentration is a good sign medication is working and it'll eventually have an impact on your overall productivity.

Changes in your sleeping patterns

When you're depressed or anxious, you may have difficulty sleeping. And let's face it, regular sleep is crucial for us to feel our best. So, when these conditions affect our sleep, it can really take a toll on our overall well-being. Bupropion can indirectly help with your insomnia, but it can also make your sleep worse, because of its stimulating properties. Any changes to your regular sleep patterns could be a sign that Wellbutrin is working and something to watch out for overall. Let your doctor know if you feel like you're having more trouble sleeping than usual.

Feeling more like yourself again  

When Wellbutrin is working, you should feel more like yourself again. It can be difficult to recognize how often you’re happy vs. how often you’re sad, but if you’ve been struggling with a deep depression, it may be a stark contrast. If you’re experiencing fewer mood swings and feel more control over how you respond to your environment, it could mean that the medication is working. Keep in mind though that therapy is more effective in terms of addressing your feelings, including your self-esteem and confidence.

Potential appetite changes

One of the side effects of Wellbutrin is that it might suppress your appetite. If you might notice you’re not as hungry as often as you were before starting the medication, it could mean that Wellbutrin has started working. Some people may even experience modest weight loss, but keep in mind that Wellbutrin isn’t a weight-loss drug.  

It's important to monitor your weight while taking bupropion. If you're worried about how it might affect your weight, it's a good idea to have a chat with your doctor. They can give you guidance and support on managing any potential weight-related effects.

How long does it take different types of Wellbutrin to kick in?

Wellbutrin comes in three different forms—Wellbutrin, Wellbutrin XL, and Wellbutrin SR. So, what’s the difference between these forms and why might you be prescribed one over the other?  

Wellbutrin, Wellbutrin SR, and Wellbutrin XL, all have the same active ingredient, but they are not interchangeable. Wellbutrin SR (sustained release) is released into the bloodstream faster than Wellbutrin XL (extended release).  

  • Wellbutrin is released the fastest and is typically taken 3 times per day. It’s FDA-approved to treat MDD and SAD.
  • Wellbutrin SR is FDA-approved to treat major depressive disorder (MDD) and typically taken twice per day with at least 8 hours between doses.  
  • Wellbutrin XL is FDA-approved to treat major depressive disorder (MDD) and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and is typically taken once per day.  

Other things about taking Wellbutrin

Before  starting your treatment plan, your doctor will go over how to take it and any possible side effects to look out for. Some common side effects include headache, weight loss, dry mouth, trouble sleeping (insomnia), nausea, dizziness, constipation, fast heartbeat, and sore throat. Not everyone experiences side effects, but for those who do, side effects tend to be mild and improve over the first week or two of taking the medication. Be sure to share any side effects with your doctor, especially ones you feel are more serious side effects. This will help them make decisions about your dose.      

Monitoring Wellbutrin's effects

It can take a few weeks to a few months to settle on the right dose of Wellbutrin for your medical condition. Over time, you should expect to have relief from your symptoms of depression or another mental health disorder to the point where daily life feels manageable again. Throughout the process of finding the right dose of medication, your healthcare provider will have you track your symptoms and any side effects. It is important to attend all your follow-up appointments, even if you’re feeling relief from your symptoms right away.  

Finding the right dose and type of medication can take time. The wait to feel better can be frustrating, but stick with it. With the right treatment, relief from your symptoms is possible.  

To learn more about Wellbutrin and how to get started, check out: How To Get Medication For Depression.

The information in this article is for informational and educational 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.

Dr. Austin Lin is a double board-certified adult and addiction psychiatrist who has been in practice for over 9 years. At the center of Dr. Lin’s clinical approach is a strong emphasis on establishing trust and using a collaborative approach to help patients develop an individualized and cohesive plan so that they are able to achieve their goals.

Dr. Lin's practice focuses on medication management. Typically, he offers this in conjunction with supportive therapy, motivational interviewing, and/or cognitive behavioral therapy in 30-minute follow-up visits. Occasionally, Dr. Lin may recommend that additional therapy is needed and ask that you bring a therapist into your care team in order to provide the best outcome.

Dr. Lin received his medical degree from St. George’s University School of Medicine. He went on to complete his residency in psychiatry at Harvard South Shore, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, where he served as Chief Resident and earned his 360° Professionalism award. He then had additional training in Addiction Psychiatry through his fellowship at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. After completing training, Dr. Lin has worked as an Addiction Psychiatrist and Director of Adult Services in the Trauma and Resilience Center (TRC) at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). He specialized in treating patients with a history of depression, anxiety, trauma, and substance use disorders.

Dr. Lin has held an academic appointment at UTHealth, and he has spent his professional career supervising and teaching medical students and psychiatry residents.

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