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Alcohol and Health

Can Drinking Alcohol Cause a UTI?

May 3, 2024
18 min read
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A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
May 3, 2024
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
May 3, 2024
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
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Reframe Content Team
May 3, 2024
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Painful Urination After Drinking Alcohol? It May Be a UTI

  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are caused by bacterial infections of the urinary tract.

  • Alcohol can contribute to UTIs by causing dehydration and irritating the bladder. We can help prevent problems from developing or getting worse by watching our intake and staying hydrated.

  • Reframe provides science-backed information about the effects of alcohol on our body, the importance of hydration, and ways to reshape our relationship with alcohol altogether, whether that means quitting or cutting back.

Can Drinking Alcohol Cause a UTI?

What happens in the bathroom usually stays in the bathroom, but when it comes to urinary tract infections (UTIs), it’s a different story. The burning, itching, and downright painful sensation that happens when we urinate is a telltale sign — and one that calls for a trip to the doctor to get treatment.

UTIs can happen any time and have many different causes. But could alcohol be one of them? Can alcohol cause kidney infections or bladder infections? Let’s find out if that painful urination after drinking alcohol could be an alcohol-related UTI and, if so, what to do about it.

Understanding UTIs

A person holding their lower abdomen with both hands, indicating discomfort

The urinary and digestive systems share some responsibilities when it comes to getting rid of waste, but the two really don’t mix well. While urine is sterile and doesn’t contain bacteria, the digestive tract is a whole different story. Unfortunately, the two systems are right next door to each other. This leaves plenty of opportunities for contamination, which happens if bacteria from the colon gets into the urethra, causing urinary tract infections. (You know how girls are always taught to wipe from front to back when going to the bathroom? Well, this is exactly why.) 

UTIs can happen anywhere from the bladder to the kidneys but are more common in the lower part of the tract (specifically, in the bladder). Kidney infections are less common but more serious than bladder infections. We’ll discuss them in a bit more detail later on.

UTI Causes and Risk Factors

According to the CDC, there are several risk factors for UTIs:

  • A previous UTI can increase our chances of getting one in the future.
  • Sexual activity can contribute to UTIs by pushing the bacteria toward the urethra.
  • Changes in vaginal flora — a fancy name for the bacteria that live inside the vagina — can be a trigger. 
  • Pregnancy ups the risk of UTIs.
  • Age can be a contributing factor — toddlers who are potty training and older adults are more likely to get them.
  • Structural problems in the urinary tract can be a factor. 
  • Poor hygiene can serve as a trigger.

However, in addition to these factors, there are others that can contribute to UTIs without directly causing them. And yes, one of them could be alcohol!

Can Alcohol Cause UTIs?

First things first: alcohol doesn’t “cause” UTIs, strictly speaking. So no, that margarita won’t send you to the bathroom doubling over in pain (well, it might — especially if you have too many — but it probably won’t be because of a UTI). However, drinking can create an environment that makes these pesky infections more likely.

There are a couple of different pathways that connect alcohol and UTIs, all of which ultimately have to do with an increase in inflammation and accumulation of bacteria that heighten our chance of infection. Let’s explore these pathways in more detail.

1. Alcohol Causes Dehydration, Which Irritates the Bladder

Alcohol is notoriously dehydrating, sending us to the bathroom many times throughout the evening (and often well into the night). And as it turns out, it’s not just due to all the liquid we’ve consumed. The reason has to do with a hormone known as vasopressin, which tells the kidneys to hold on to water. Alcohol suppresses vasopressin, so the kidneys open the floodgates and keep us going back to that long line in the bar’s restroom. (For a closer look, check out: “Breaking the Seal: Why Does Alcohol Make You Pee So Much?”).

The result? We wake up feeling parched and, probably, with a nagging hangover headache. 

The dehydration, in turn, irritates the bladder by causing urine to be highly concentrated and more acidic. As it sits in the bladder, it puts pressure on it, and the acidity adds to the irritation. Any bacteria hanging out in the area around the urethra jump on the opportunity to invade while defenses are weak.

2. Alcohol Throws a Wrench in the Immune System

Alcohol does more than dehydrate us; it also weakens our immune system. Studies show that even one bout of heavy drinking increases our susceptibility to illnesses, such as colds or the flu.

Over time, alcohol poses an even bigger threat to immunity because it lowers our ability to fight off diseases and impacts our innate and adaptive immunity. Part of the reason for that is the fact that our body’s resources get sidetracked to focus on getting alcohol out of our system and cleaning up after it. At the same time, alcohol itself causes inflammation, which uses up the immune system’s resources. When those resources are needed to fight off an infection — such as a UTI — they are left in short supply, leading to longer recovery times (For more information, take a look at: “Alcohol's Impact on the Immune System”).

What Are the Most Common UTI Symptoms?

Besides that dreaded burning feeling — a telltale sign that an infection might be brewing down there — are there any other symptoms? As it turns out, there are a few. We might expect different symptoms depending on where our infection originates. 

Most UTIs involve the lower tract (usually the bladder) and come with some characteristic symptoms:

  • Changes in urination. We’re likely to experience painful, burning, and (unfortunately) frequent urination.
  • Urge to urinate. We might also feel like we need to go to the bathroom even when our bladder is empty. 
  • Color and smell changes. Our urine might be cloudy or bloody and might also have an odd smell (don’t overthink this one — you’ll know it when you smell it).
  • Pain. We might feel some pressure or cramping in the lower abdomen.

Symptoms of a kidney infection (pyelonephritis) are a bit more intense and usually involve fever or chills, loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting, and pain in the side or back.

Both types of infection are usually easily treatable with antibiotics, but a timely call to the doctor is a must! If a UTI is left untreated (or if our infection requires additional care), we can be looking at possible complications.

Should I Drink With a UTI?

There’s another question that might be on our mind: does alcohol make UTIs worse if we already have one? To be on the safe side, it’s better to wait a week or two until our UTI is at bay.

The truth is, alcohol can worsen existing UTI symptoms through the same mechanism that makes us more susceptible to them after we drink. Besides, if we’re taking UTI medication, that’s another reason to wait. Why? Let’s explore the reasons in more detail.

Tips To Prevent and Recover From UTIs

Can You Drink on UTI Antibiotics?

In general, antibiotics and alcohol don’t mix, and those prescribed for a UTI are no exception. Once a diagnosis is made through a urine test that checks for bacteria, the doctor might prescribe some medication.

Here’s what we might be taking if we’re diagnosed with a UTI:

  • Nitrofurantoin (Macrobid). While alcohol doesn’t interact with Macrobid directly, it can intensify some of the side effects, such as headaches or nausea (which alcohol also causes).
  • Sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim (Bactrim). Bactrim is definitely one of the meds to be careful with. Mixing it with alcohol can cause a disulfiram-like reaction, leading to intense nausea, cardiovascular effects, headaches, facial flushing, and blood pressure fluctuations. The combo could also lead to intensified side effects of both the drug and the alcohol.
  • Ciprofloxacin (Cipro). Both alcohol and Cipro can cause gastrointestinal side effects (such as nausea and vomiting), dizziness, and headaches. Mixing the two could make them more intense. Plus, Cipro is processed by the liver, so adding alcohol to the mix could cause unnecessary strain.
  • Amoxicillin-clavulanic acid (Augmentin). The mix of alcohol and Augmentin could boost side effects such as indigestion, diarrhea, and nausea. Once again, it’s processed by the liver, so drinking could create extra stress.

Finally, antibiotics tend to be dehydrating, and, as we already know, so is alcohol. The last thing we want when we’re already dealing with a UTI is to dry things up even more!

Those UTIs Might Be a Kidney Infection

Remember how we mentioned kidney infections back at the beginning? Chronic UTIs can lead to them. Although bladder and kidney infections are both classified as UTIs, the second is a lot more serious and can have long-term implications.

Alcohol plays a special role here, too. Alcohol misuse and bouts of heavy drinking can compromise kidney function, so it’s one more reason to stay safe and err on the side of moderation or switch to booze-free options altogether.

Tips To Prevent and Recover From UTIs

Finally, here are some tips to help you stay UTI-free and recover more quickly if you’ve already got one!

  • See a doctor if you’re having symptoms. This one’s key: if you’ve got symptoms such as painful urination, see your doctor right away. They’ll prescribe antibiotics if you need them and will check for other issues if a UTI is not what’s going on.

  • Avoid alcohol, coffee, and spicy foods as you recover. All of these can irritate your urinary tract or cause dehydration, which will slow your recovery.

  • Sip on some cranberry juice or tea. Cranberry juice is known to have urinary tract benefits, so adding it to your diet can help stave off those UTIs or help you get over one faster.

  • Maintain proper hygiene. You know, all that stuff about wiping from front to back that we were told as kids? It’s good to remember it!

  • Hydrate. Hydration is a huge factor in whether or not bacteria are able to set up camp in our urinary tract, so remember to drink lots of water, especially if you choose to drink alcohol. Alternate drinks with water or, better yet, swap your usual cocktail for a hydrating mocktail instead!

  • Take vitamin C supplements. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, vitamin C helps limit the growth of bacteria in the urinary tract.
Let it breathe. Let everything down there get plenty of ventilation by wearing cotton undies and loose clothing, especially as you recover. Stay away from nylon and anything too constricting.

  • Cut back on drinking. Last but not least, consider cutting back or taking a break from booze. Reframe is here to help you every step of the way! There’s absolutely nothing to lose and a whole world of mindful, healthy alternatives to explore.

If you’re dealing with a UTI, it might feel like it’s taking forever to go away, but rest assured, it will. We’re wishing you a speedy recovery — and a UTI-free future!

Summing Up

In the end, a UTI is a pain and a nuisance to deal with, but it’s temporary and very treatable — provided we take the necessary steps and don’t let it progress. Adding alcohol to the mix will only slow things down, so it’s best to stay away from booze until we feel better. And to lower our chances of getting a UTI in the first place, we can consider taking a step back from drinking. We might find that the benefits — even if we only cut back a bit — go far beyond reducing risks of UTIs and include perks such as better sleep, weight loss, a healthier heart, a better metabolism, and sharper cognitive skills. Why not try it out?

Summary FAQs

1. Can alcohol cause UTIs?

While alcohol doesn’t cause UTIs directly, it can make them more likely by irritating the urinary tract as a result of dehydration and by weakening the body’s immune defenses.

2. What’s the best alcohol to drink with UTI symptoms?

It’s best to avoid alcohol until the UTI has passed to keep the infection from getting worse.

3. Can we drink on antibiotics for UTIs?

Drinking on UTI antibiotics isn’t advisable, since alcohol can decrease their effectiveness and amplify side effects. Also, like alcohol, antibiotics are processed in the liver, and some can cause disulfiram-like effects.

4. Does alcohol make UTI worse?

Yes, alcohol can make UTIs worse by dehydrating the body and lowering immune defenses.

5. Can alcohol cause kidney infections?

While alcohol doesn’t cause kidney infections directly, it can make them more likely. Excessive drinking can also cause harm to the kidneys in general.

Ready To Say Goodbye to Alcohol-Related UTIs? Reframe Can Help!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today! 

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