Wellbutrin Vs. Adderall: How Do They Differ?

ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed psychological disorder in children, and it can dramatically affect a child’s abilities in school, potentially impacting their long-term success. Because of this, treatment is often sought.

Adderall is the most common medication prescribed for ADHD, although Wellbutrin is another potential option. Continue reading to see the difference and similarities between these two medications and why one might be preferred over the other.

Table of Contents

What Is Wellbutrin?

Wellbutrin is the brand name for bupropion, a type of antidepressant. It is a type of aminoketone that weakly inhibits the reuptake of two neurotransmitters (norepinephrine and dopamine), which are responsible for sending messages to nerve cells.

It comes in three forms: Wellbutrin, Wellbutrin XL (extended release), and Wellbutrin SR (sustained release).

How Does Wellbutrin Work?

With neurotransmitters, once they send their message, the brain normally reabsorbs them through a process called reuptake. However, aminoketones inhibit, or block, this process from happening, which then increases the amount of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain.

Wellbutrin treats certain conditions by indirectly increasing the amount of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, which helps to improve mood and increase energy and attentiveness.

What Is Wellbutrin Used For?

Wellbutrin has been approved to treat major depressive disorder (MDD) and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It has also been used to help smokers quit (smoking cessation).

There are also some “off-label” benefits to Wellbutrin for treating ADHD and bipolar disorder, but despite the success, the FDA has not yet approved it to treat these conditions.

What Is Adderall?

Adderall is a combination medication of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine and is classified as a stimulant.

It comes in two forms: Adderall and Adderall XR. Adderall is an oral immediate-release tablet, and Adderall XR is an oral extended-release tablet.

What Is Adderall Used For?

Adderall is most commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), although it may also be used to treat narcolepsy.

How Does Adderall Work?

Adderall works by increasing the amount of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain. Dopamine helps the brain by reinforcing rewarding behaviors, and norepinephrine increases attention by raising your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing.

Scientists believe that ADHD may occur when there is an imbalance of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, which is what Adderall helps to adjust.

What Are the Differences Between Wellbutrin and Adderall?

While Wellbutrin and Adderall work in similar ways, they are intended for different conditions. Wellbutrin is an antidepressant most often used to treat depressive disorders, whereas Adderall is a stimulant that treats ADHD and narcolepsy.

Pros Of Wellbutrin vs Pros of Adderall

Wellbutrin can help to relieve the symptoms of MDD and SAD in those who take it, and it has been shown to produce fewer sexual side effects than other antidepressants. Additionally, there are no known long-term problems associated with Wellbutrin use, whereas there are some potential risks associated with long-term Adderall use, the most dangerous being the increased risk of drug abuse.

As for Adderall, it is typically the first-choice treatment for ADHD, and studies have shown that between 75-80% of children with ADHD see an improvement in attention and focus and a reduction in impulsive behaviors when taking a stimulant such as Adderall.

Cons Of Wellbutrin vs Cons of Adderall

Adderall is considered a controlled substance, which means that it is possible to become addicted to it, either physically or psychologically, and this can result in the misuse or abuse of it.

There are also some risks of Adderall, with stimulants potentially causing heart attack, stroke, and sudden death in those who use it with heart disease, high blood pressure, or a heart defect. However, these circumstances are typically seen only in those who abuse Adderall.

As for Wellbutrin, while some people have seen success in its use for ADHD, the FDA has not yet approved it in the treatment of this condition, and it is often not as effective as Adderall. 

Side Effects and Interactions of Wellbutrin and Adderall

Some of the most common side effects of Wellbutrin include:

  • agitation
  • restlessness
  • insomnia

Wellbutrin can also cause an increased risk of seizures by lowering the seizure threshold, so it is not recommended for those already at a higher risk.

Weight changes are also common when taking antidepressants, no matter the type, with some people citing weight gain and others citing weight loss, although, with Wellbutrin, weight loss is more common.

Some of the common side effects of Adderall include:

  • trouble sleeping
  • lack of appetite
  • anxiety
  • constipation
  • stomach pain
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • dry mouth
  • headache
  • weight loss

A potentially dangerous interaction of Adderall is with MAO inhibitors, so it is important to not use Adderall if you have taken one of these medications within the past 14 days.

Additionally, other medications can react with dextroamphetamine and amphetamine to cause a serious condition called serotonin syndrome. Be sure to tell your doctor of any medications or supplements you take to avoid this interaction.

Symptoms of serotonin syndrome can include:

  • hallucinations
  • agitation
  • fast heart rate
  • coma
  • sweating
  • feeling hot
  • dizziness
  • seizures
  • vomiting
  • nausea
  • muscle rigidity
  • diarrhea

If you experience any of these symptoms, stop Adderall immediately and speak to your doctor.

Does Wellbutrin Work as Well as Adderall?

While Wellbutrin is not FDA approved for the treatment of ADHD, many patients find success when prescribed it. The research is mixed, though, with some research showing that Wellbutrin can help manage ADHD symptoms and other studies reporting a very minimal effect from Wellbutrin.

Based on the research, Wellbutrin may help those with ADHD, but it generally does not work as well as Adderall in treating ADHD. However, there are some instances where Wellbutrin might be preferred:

  • stimulant drugs produce undesirable side effects
  • Adderall has not been an effective treatment
  • history of addiction
  • having other mental health disorders, such as depression, in addition to ADHD

How Can DrHouse Help?

If you are interested in a prescription for depression or ADHD, an online doctor can help. With DrHouse, you can meet with an online doctor in just 15 minutes to discuss your symptoms and receive a prescription. If you are currently on Adderall but want to try another medication, an online doctor can discuss your symptoms and other options.

Since Adderall is classified as a controlled substance, most online doctors cannot prescribe it. However, DrHouse offers same-day in-person visits where you can meet with a doctor and discuss an Adderall prescription.

Key Takeaways

Wellbutrin and Adderall are two different types of medications. Wellbutrin is an antidepressant approved to treat depressive disorders and help with smoking cessation, and Adderall is a stimulant used to treat ADHD or narcolepsy. However, both of these medications increase levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, producing similar results.

Wellbutrin has been used “off label” as a treatment for ADHD, and although not always as effective as Adderall, it can be preferable in some cases. This is because Adderall can become addicting, and there is an increased risk of drug misuse.

Both medications have their pros and cons, and an online doctor can help you find the ideal medication for you.

References

  • Moser, P. (2008). Bupropion. Xpharm: The Comprehensive Pharmacology Reference, 1-4. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1016/b978-008055232-3.64054-1 
  • Nutt D. J. (2008). Relationship of neurotransmitters to the symptoms of major depressive disorder. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 69 Suppl E1, 4–7. PMID: 18494537.
  • Amphetamine (Adderall) | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness . (2022). https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Treatments/Mental-Health-Medications/Types-of-Medication/Amphetamine-(Adderall) 
  • Kennedy S. (2018). Raising Awareness About Prescription and Stimulant Abuse in College Students Through On-Campus Community Involvement Projects. Journal of undergraduate neuroscience education : JUNE : a publication of FUN, Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience, 17(1), A50–A53.  PMID: 30618499; PMCID: PMC6312145.
  • Verbeeck, W., Bekkering, G., Van den Noortgate, W., & Kramers, C. (2017). Bupropion for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults. Cochrane Database Of Systematic Reviews, 2017(10). doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1002/14651858.cd009504.pub2 
  • Briars, L., & Todd, T. (2016). A Review of Pharmacological Management of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. The Journal Of Pediatric Pharmacology And Therapeutics, 21(3), 192-206. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.5863/1551-6776-21.3.192 
  • Wittich, C., Burkle, C., & Lanier, W. (2012). Ten Common Questions (and Their Answers) About Off-label Drug Use. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 87(10), 982-990. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2012.04.017 
  • Reimherr, F. W., Hedges, D. W., Strong, R. E., Marchant, B. K., & Williams, E. D. (2005). Bupropion SR in adults with ADHD: a short-term, placebo-controlled trial. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 1(3), 245–251. PMID: 18568102; PMCID: PMC2416755.

DrHouse articles are written by MDs, NPs, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. The contents of the DrHouse site are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are experiencing high fever (>103F/39.4C), shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, heart palpitations, abnormal bruising, abnormal bleeding, extreme fatigue, dizziness, new weakness or paralysis, difficulty with speech, confusion, extreme pain in any body part, or inability to remain hydrated or keep down fluids or feel you may have any other life-threatening condition, please go to the emergency department or call 911 immediately.

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