Antidepressants for Weight Loss

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: August 2023

Antidepressant drugs are not typically used as a primary treatment for obesity. Their main purpose is to help treat depression and other mental health conditions. But in some cases, certain antidepressants may have side effects that can aid in weight loss.1

How do antidepressants work?

Antidepressants work by affecting the levels and activity of certain chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters handle communication between nerve cells and are linked to mood and emotion. The most common neurotransmitters targeted by antidepressants include:2

  • Serotonin
  • Norepinephrine
  • Dopamine

In cases where depression or another mental health condition leads to overeating or disordered eating, treating the mental health issue with antidepressants may help manage weight. By improving mood and reducing symptoms of depression, these medicines may help people make better self-care and lifestyle choices. People may be more able to develop healthier eating habits and increased physical activity.3

Examples of antidepressants for weight loss

There are many kinds of antidepressants. To date, the 1 antidepressant associated with weight loss is bupropion.2,4

Bupropion-naltrexone (Contrave®)

Bupropion, when combined with another drug called naltrexone, has been clinically proven to help people with obesity to lose weight. This combination drug is known as an opioid antagonist. Its brand name is Contrave®. Contrave has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat obesity.5

Bupropion (Wellbutrin®)

In some people, taking bupropion on its own also has shown to promote weight loss. The brand name for bupropion is Wellbutrin®.4,6

Wellbutrin is considered an atypical antidepressant. It affects dopamine and norepinephrine levels. For more information, read the full prescribing information of bupropion.4,6

What are the possible side effects?

Side effects can vary depending on the specific drug you are taking. The most common side effects of bupropion include:6

  • Headache
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Insomnia
  • Dizziness
  • Constipation
  • Stomach pain

Bupropion has a boxed warning, the strictest warning from the FDA. It has this warning because it can lead to increased suicidal thoughts and behaviors in children, adolescents, and young adults.6

These are not all the possible side effects of bupropion. Talk to your healthcare provider about what to expect when taking bupropion. You also should call your healthcare provider if you have any changes that concern you when taking bupropion.

Other things to know

Do not take bupropion if you have a seizure disorder or a history of bulimia or anorexia.6

Not everyone who is on antidepressants for obesity will experience weight loss. The use of antidepressants for weight management is not a stand-alone treatment for obesity. A comprehensive approach that includes a balanced diet and regular exercise is recommended. Other interventions, such as behavioral therapy or weight management programs, also may be recommended.4

Before beginning treatment for obesity, tell your healthcare provider about all your health conditions and any other drugs, vitamins, or supplements you take. This includes over-the-counter drugs.

Talk with your healthcare provider

If you are concerned about obesity or weight management, talk with a healthcare professional who can provide advice and guidance based on your specific situation. They can assess your overall health, consider any underlying conditions, and recommend appropriate treatment options.

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