How Wellbutrin WorksWellbutrin is a norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitor, or NDRI for short. NDRIs, such as Wellbutrin, affect specific chemicals within the brain known as norepinephrine and dopamine. Norepinephrine and dopamine are two of several chemicals used to send messages from one nerve cell to another.
As a message travels down a nerve, it causes the end of the cell to release norepinephrine (or dopamine). The norepinephrine (or dopamine) enters the gap between the first nerve cell and the one next to it. When enough norepinephrine or dopamine reaches the second nerve cell, it activates receptors on the cell and the message continues on its way. The first cell then quickly absorbs any norepinephrine or dopamine that remains in the gap between cells. This is called "reuptake."
Normally, this process works without any problems. But when the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine become unbalanced, it can cause a variety of conditions, including depression and seasonal affective disorder. Wellbutrin helps to block the reuptake of norepinephrine and dopamine so more remains in the space between the brain's nerve cells. This gives the norepinephrine and dopamine a better chance of activating the receptors on the next nerve cell.
Currently, the only NDRI antidepressants approved for use are medications containing bupropion. Wellbutrin is the short-acting version of bupropion. Bupropion also comes in longer-acting forms, including:
- Wellbutrin SR (bupropion SR) or Budeprion SR®, usually taken twice a day
- Wellbutrin XL, Forfivo™ XL, or Budeprion XL® (bupropion XL), taken once a day
- Aplenzin™ (bupropion hydrobromide), taken once a day
- Zyban® (bupropion SR) or Buproban®, used for smoking cessation (taken twice a day).