Bupropion and alcohol

Can you drink while taking Bupropion?

Bupropion is the generic (common or non-branded) name for bupropion hydrochloride, the active ingredient in the branded drug, Zyban.  It was originally marketed as an antidepressant drug under the brand name of Wellbutrin, but approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a quit-smoking aid in 1997, after it became obvious that Bupropion was an effective quit aid, because smokers using it to treat depression also lost interest in smoking.

It isn't completely understood how Bupropion works, but it’s known that the drug alters brain chemistry in such a way that nicotine is made less effective. The result is a reduced interest in smoking, and nicotine cravings and withdrawal are minimal.

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While this medication was developed as an antidepressant, you do not need to suffer from depression for it to work as a quit aid. That said, if you develop quit-related depression, Bupropion may help to offset the symptoms.

Bupropion has many side effects, ranging from the common, those you should seek immediate medical attention for, to those that warrant stopping the drug immediately.  The common side effects include dry mouth and trouble sleeping, but these problems tend to go away after you take Bupropion for about a week. You might have anxiety, constipation, skin irritation, or dizziness. 

In 2009, the FDA required the makers of Zyban and Chantix, a similar quit aid to post a warning on product packaging about potentially severe side effects.

If you have any other problems and you’re concerned about whether they might be related to Bupropion, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.  Also, tell your doctor if you have a history of seizures, because this medication might make you more likely to have a seizure. 

It isn't completely understood how Bupropion works, but it’s known that the drug alters brain chemistry in such a way that nicotine is made less effective. The result is a reduced interest in smoking, and nicotine cravings and withdrawal are minimal.

While Bupropion was developed as an antidepressant, you do not need to suffer from depression for it to work as a quit aid. That said, if you develop quit-related depression, Bupropion may help to offset the symptoms.

As well as a quit-smoking tablet, Bupropion is an atypical antidepressant. This means that it works differently than the major classes of antidepressants.  Bupropion can also react differently with alcohol than other antidepressants.

If you don’t drink alcohol often, drinking while taking Bupropion can increase your risk of certain problems, including seizures. If you drink heavily, abruptly stopping while taking Bupropion can have similar effects.

So, let’s take a look at the issues to learn more about the interactions (reactions) between alcohol and Bupropion, including things to watch out for if you’ve already had a drink.

 

Alcohol and seizures

Seizures are a rare but serious side effect of Bupropion that some people experience. The risk of having a seizure while taking the drug is higher in people who:

  • have an underlying condition that causes seizures
  • have an eating disorder
  • are taking a high dose

Excessive use of alcohol can also increase your risk of having a seizure while taking Bupropion. The risk for each individual varies, so it’s best to avoid alcohol altogether, unless you have a history of heavy drinking.

 

Alcohol withdrawal and Bupropion

If you regularly drink a lot of alcohol or have alcohol-use disorder, abruptly stopping can lead to alcohol withdrawal syndrome. This is a potentially life-threatening condition if not properly managed.

Going through alcohol withdrawal while taking Bupropion also increases your risk of having a seizure along with other serious side effects, including:

  • severe shaking and tremors
  • vomiting
  • confusion and disorientation
  • hallucinations and paranoia

To minimize your risk of having a seizure or other severe side effects while taking Bupropion, it’s crucial that you’re honest with your doctor about your drinking habits.

Be sure to tell your doctor:

  • the kinds of alcohol you drink
  • how much you drink at a time
  • how much you drink on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis
  • how long you’ve been drinking this amount

 

Alcohol and other side effects

Drinking alcohol while taking Bupropion can have other effects on your health.

Alcohol is a depressant, meaning it slows your central nervous system, including your brain. This can make you feel:

  • confused
  • dizzy
  • restless
  • uncoordinated

These are all potential side effects of Bupropion too. Drinking alcohol while taking Bupropion can intensify these effects.

In addition, drinking alcohol can counteract the beneficial effects of Bupropion on depression, leading to more severe depression symptoms or even suicidal thoughts.

 

What to do if you’ve already had a drink

If you’re currently taking Bupropion and have consumed alcohol, don’t panic. Remember, drinking alcohol while taking Bupropion simply increases your risk of certain problems. It doesn’t guarantee them.

Still, there are a few things you’ll want to watch for over the next 24 hours, including:

  • worsening of depression symptoms
  • worsening of Bupropion side effects, especially confusion, disorientation, and lack of coordination
  • increased shakiness or tremors, which can be a sign of an impending seizure

Contact your doctor right away if you experience any of these symptoms.

Head to the emergency room or urgent care if you think you may be having a seizure or have:

  • severe shaking or tremors
  • thoughts of suicide
  • significant worsening of depression symptoms

 

The bottom line

It’s generally best to avoid alcohol while taking Bupropion. However, in some cases, abruptly quitting drinking while taking Bupropion can have serious effects on your health. For some, having an occasional drink while taking Bupropion is OK.

There’s no way to predict how you’ll react to mixing alcohol and Bupropion. Your safest bet is to have an honest conversation with your doctor about your drinking habits before starting Bupropion.

If you do choose to drink alcohol while taking Bupropion, make sure to monitor yourself for any potentially dangerous side effects so you can get help right away. 

 

References

  1. Drugs, Wellbutrin (bupropion) and Alcohol / Food Interactions, [website] 2019,  https://www.drugs.com/food-interactions/bupropion,wellbutrin.html, (accessed November 4, 2019).
  2. WebMD, What Are the Medicines for Nicotine Withdrawal? [website] 2019,  https://www.webmd.com/smoking-cessation/understanding-nicotine-withdrawal-treatment#1, (accessed November 2, 2019).
  3. verywellmind, How Zyban Can Help With Quitting Smoking, [website] 2019,  https://www.verywellmind.com/what-should-i-know-about-zyban-as-a-quit-aid-2825342, (accessed November 2, 2019).

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