Drugs & Medications

How Bupropion Affects Anxiety

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated January 5, 2022

How Bupropion Affects Anxiety

Bupropion is a medication commonly used for mood stabilization in people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and to combat the cravings created by tobacco addiction. Bupropion has not been studied as an anxiety treatment and has therefore not been recommended as a treatment for anxiety alone. 

However, because anxiety often accompanies depression of many varieties, and because tobacco dependence and withdrawal can be cause of stress, treating your seasonal affective disorder or addiction with bupropion may have the side effect of decreasing your anxiety.

Read on to learn more about this drug's effects, and alternative ways to manage your anxiety - especially if you are having to treat other problems simultaneously and want to avoid medical complications.

Choosing Medications for Anxiety

Medicine has received an unfair reputation in the anxiety world. It does have a purpose, and can be helpful for those with anxiety. But it needs to be more of a last resort, and should never be used alone. You don't want to stop taking the medicine and watch as your anxiety comes back stronger than before.

NDRIs and Anxiety

Bupropion is an NDRI, or “norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitor.” Your brain sends messages to other cells in your body using neurotransmitters, including norepinephrine and dopamine. After sending those messages, your body is supposed to take the neurotransmitters back out – a process known as “reuptake.” 

When using a reuptake inhibitor, like Bupropion, these receptors are prevented from taking the neurotransmitters back out. This leads to more of them building up so that they send more and more of the messages. 

By taking a norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitor, your brain *increases* the amount of norepinephrine and dopamine by preventing their reuptake. For some conditions, like depression, this can be useful. But for anxiety, norepinephrine and dopamine are two neurotransmitters that can be problematic when they are allowed to build up.  

Norepinephrine is one of your body's fight or flight chemicals. It increases when a person is faced with a danger, and tells the body to respond with fight or flight. Increasing norepinephrine levels would thus be more likely to increase anxiety, rather than reduce it. Similarly, studies have shown that increased dopamine levels lead to more anxiety as well. 

For this reason, a person suffering from anxiety, but not from depression, will likely not be helped by bupropion, because the fight or flight chemicals released may increase stress, rather than balancing out depression caused symptoms of feeling dull and inactive.

SNRIs, or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, are often prescribed for anxiety because, along with stimulating norepinephrine, they also stimulate the happy chemicals in the brain such as serotonin that can help to replace anxious feelings with feelings of contentment. But NDRIs show no such benefits.

Which to Treat First: Depression or Anxiety?

Anxiety is known for having a high rate of comorbidity, which means that it is often accompanied by other problems. Anxiety is often the precursor to the types of depression that drugs like bupropion are designed to treat. This is because a prolonged cycle of negative, anxious thoughts can lead to feelings of hopelessness and dejection. The negative mindset of depression promotes further negative, anxious thoughts, and so the cycle is perpetuated.

While treating depression can aid anxiety problems and treating anxiety problems can aid depression, anxiety treatments and depression treatments are notably different. While many treatments for depression are meant to stimulate the mind, treatments for anxiety instead require the mind to be calmed or tranquilized. This is why it is important to examine your medication for anxiety or for depression if you are experiencing both to make sure it will not aggravate one condition or the other.

Taking drugs such as bupropion to alleviate stressful feelings caused by the need to smoke can be helpful for anxiety. In addition, as bupropion is only a mild psychostimulant, it is a relatively safe antidepressant, and in helping to put you in a better frame of mind in a non addictive way, it (and similar antidepressants) may have the side effect of decreasing the likelihood of anxiety attacks.

However, you can also stop the problem before it starts by directly addressing your anxiety with proven methods that don't rely on the side effects of your medication for other problems.

Addressing Anxiety Alongside Other Problems

To ensure that your medications do not interact with one another in negative ways, it may be wise to take nonmedical steps to address your anxiety separately.

Here are some things you can do to decrease your anxiety that have zero risk of interacting in harmful ways with your other medication(s):

  • Go For A Walk It can be hard to motivate yourself to exercise, but going for a walk requires minimal effort and has multiple benefits. First, it gets your body moving. This helps to release builtup tension and gives you something other than your stress to focus on. Secondly, it gives you your space. When you are suffering from anxiety and other problems, the demands of the world can feel overwhelming. Walking and spending time on your own can reduce this feeling of pressure. Thirdly, it gets you out in the fresh air. Being outside, especially on sunny days, is proven to naturally lift your mood (and specifically to prevent SAD).
  • Get More Sleep Ever notice how after a good night's sleep you wake up feeling like a whole new person? That's because you actually are. Sleep is when your body recharges and refreshes itself; literally. Old cells get replaced by new cells in your sleep; something they are too busy to do when you are awake. If getting to sleep is a problem for you, try reading or listening to a comforting soundtrack, such as clips of crickets chirping or ocean waves. (F.Y.I., this strategy is one to be careful of if you are suffering from depression; excessive sleeping can be an avoidance tactic, so be sure to limit yourself to a healthy eight or nine hours).
  • Explore Your Passions What do you like to do or are fascinated by but have never tried? Devoting yourself to something that inspires you can be a great way to lift your mood and refocus your mind if it has been dwelling on negative thoughts. Sites like Pinterest and Lifehacker can give you ideas for constructive, inspiring activities that will give you something new to focus on and build positive associations with.
  • Hang Out With Animals Getting a pet or volunteering at an animal shelter can give you a feeling of purpose and help put your own feelings of distress in perspective. Additionally, animals (unlike humans) are nonjudgmental and more prone to be friendly, and spending time with them can make you feel calmer and less pressured overall. Cats are great pets for people with anxiety because they are very non demanding. Fish won't aggravate any allergies, and dogs give you an excuse to take walks in nature and relax that way.
  • Talk to Someone Talking to friends and family about what is stressing you out can be extremely helpful in getting some much needed perspective on the issue, and may help you realize that what you thought was an unsolvable problem really isn't a problem at all. However, friends and family may not be equipped to deal with severe anxiety (or may be part of the cause of your anxiety), which means it is time to talk to someone professional. There are websites devoted to free chat support with people trained to help you with anxiety, as well as inexpensive counseling services where you can talk to someone in person.

Anxiety is a formidable problem by itself and can become even more so when you need to take other medications to deal with problems like depression that can sometimes occur alongside it.

Though Bupropion is proven to be effective in treating depression and alleviating depression may help reduce your anxiety, it is advisable to look at your anxiety as a separate problem and take steps to keep it from interfering with your life.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

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Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient


You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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