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A Comparison of Effexor to Wellbutrin

author image Hazel Thornstein
Hazel Thornstein has been writing and editing since 2003. She writes copy for websites such as LIVESTRONG.COM and marketing materials. Thornstein is a psychotherapist, and her writing focuses on psychology and relationship issues. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in mass communications and creative writing from the University of California-Berkeley and a Master of Arts in psychology.
A Comparison of Effexor to Wellbutrin
A patient is having a discussion with his doctor. Photo Credit AlexRaths/iStock/Getty Images

Psychiatrists prescribe both Effexor and Wellbutrin to treat major depression. Effexor also has Food and Drug Administration approval to treat generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety and panic disorder. These drugs work in a similar way but act on different chemicals in the brain. Neither are in the class of drugs called SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, the most commonly prescribed antidepressants. Understanding the different functions and risks of these two medications can help patients make an informed decision about treatment.

Effexor Function

Imbalances in certain chemicals in the brain can cause depression and anxiety. Effexor is a one of only two SNRI, or serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, on the market. These antidepressants are also known as dual reuptake inhibitors. Effexor increases levels of norepinephrine and serotonin by inhibiting their reuptake process of in the brain. This prevents nerve cells from too quickly absorbing excess norepinephrine and serotonin, making more of these chemicals available to the brain. Research indicates that increased levels of these two neurotransmitters has a positive effect on depression and anxiety, reports the Mayo Clinic.

Wellbutrin Function

Wellbutrin is an atypical antidepressant in a different class of drugs from both Effexor and from SSRIs such as Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft. Wellbutrin also inhibits reuptake of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. It has no effect on serotonin but does elevate levels of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain. Wellbutrin is the only norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitor, or NDRI, on the market. Some patients particularly like Wellbutrin because of its low incidence of sexual side effects and weight gain.

Effexor Adverse Effects

All medications carry the risk of unpleasant side effects. Patients taking Effexor have reported a relatively high incidence of gastrointestinal disturbance, which may subside during treatment. And in a large clinical trial, 25 percent of people taking Effexor experienced headaches. Nervous-system-related complaints such as anxiety, dizziness, insomnia, sleepiness and abnormal dreams occur in a significant number of patients. Many antidepressants can cause sexual side effects, and Effexor appears to fall in the middle range of these issues, with a small but significant number of patients reporting these side effects.

Wellbutrin Adverse Effects

While not causing significant incidence of weight gain or sexual side effects, Wellbutrin does pose other adverse effect risks. Like most antidepressants, gastrointestinal complaints are among the most common side effects. This also includes decreased appetite and weight loss in some people. Wellbutrin can have an agitating effect. Significant numbers of patients report anxiety, insomnia and agitation. However, sedation occurs in other patients, as does diminished libido. Wellbutin carries a risk of seizures, and patients with certain medical conditions should not take Wellbutrin for this reason.


Both medications affect levels of neurotransmitters in the brain and may help nerve cells regulate sensitivity to glutamate, which is thought to have a protective effect against anxiety and depression. Individual responsiveness to antidepressant therapy varies greatly, depending on a number of variables. It is impossible to know which drug will provide the greatest benefit and least problematic side effects in advance, unless a patient has had success with the drug in the past. Each drug carries specific warnings as well, and all antidepressant medications carry a warning of possible increase in suicidality, particularly in young people and at the beginning of treatment.

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