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Can Alcohol Cause a Urinary Tract Infection?

Woman with hands over abdominal region    

Alcohol is a commonly used substance in adults and teenagers. Almost 75% of teenagers have used alcohol before they graduate from high school. Alcohol use is associated with many short-term and long-term health issues.

Alcohol use may be associated with the development of urinary tract infections (UTI) in some people, although it’s usually not a direct cause of UTIs. It may increase the risk of UTIs due to problems with blood sugar regulation and impairment of the immune system.

What is a Urinary Tract Infection?

A UTI occurs when any part of the urinary tract is infected with a bacterial organism. The urinary tract consists of the kidneys, bladder, ureters (which connect the kidney to the bladder) and the urethra (which allows the bladder to eliminate urine from the body). Usually, bacterial organisms cause UTIs, but certain fungi or viruses can also cause UTI symptoms.

Symptoms of UTIs include:

  • Burning, tingling or pain while urinating
  • Frequent urge to urinate, even if the bladder is empty
  • Cloudy urine
  • Bloody urine
  • Foul-smelling urine
  • Frequent urination, often just small amounts
  • Lower abdominal pain, especially in women

Causes of Urinary Tract Infections

Bacteria commonly causes UTIs when they enter the urinary tract and start to multiply. UTIs are more common in women, since they have shorter urethras and because the urethral opening is closer to the anus compared with men. UTIs usually affect the bladder or urethra and often are caused by gastrointestinal bacteria, such as E. coli.

Several factors may increase the risk of UTIs, including:

  • Female anatomy
  • Sexual intercourse, especially with new partners
  • Certain birth control methods, including spermicides, unlubricated condoms and diaphragms
  • Menopausal state
  • Structural abnormalities in the urinary tract
  • Kidney stones or other obstructions in the urinary tract
  • Impaired immunity
  • Use of urinary catheters
  • Urinary medical procedures
  • High blood sugar, which often leads to high amounts of sugar in the urine

Can Drinking Alcohol Cause a UTI?

Drinking alcohol does not directly cause urinary tract infections, but it may increase the risk of a UTI occurring for several reasons.

Alcohol can cause the function of the immune system to decrease, which makes it more difficult to fight UTI-causing bacteria if they are introduced to the urinary tract. Infections, in general, are more frequent in people who use alcohol compared with those who do not.

Frequent sexual activity and increased number of sexual partners increases the risk of UTI development. One study showed that alcohol use was correlated with both of these factors in college-aged women.

Alcohol and Bladder Pain

Alcohol use can cause bladder pain even without the presence of a true UTI. This pain seems to occur because of the high acidity of alcohol. The acidity can irritate the lining of the bladder. This bladder irritation may feel similar to symptoms of a UTI, so it may be mistaken for a bladder infection. According to one study, decreasing the intake of acidic substances, such as alcohol, may improve urinary irritation.

Drinking Alcohol With a UTI

Some important aspects of UTI treatment are good hydration, good nutrition, antibiotics and rest. Since alcohol is a mild diuretic, it can cause dehydration. Avoiding alcohol during UTI treatment can help avoid dehydration and improve the healing process. Resting and eating properly can help with recovery as well, and avoiding alcohol can also help with adequate sleep and food intake.

Alcohol and Antibiotic Interactions

It is generally best to avoid alcohol use while taking antibiotics for the treatment of a UTI. Many drugs, including antibiotics, can interact with alcohol. Although not considered serious in most cases, many antibiotics can cause stomach upset, which can be heightened by concomitant alcohol use. Alcohol can sometimes reduce how well the antibiotic works, can cause certain unpleasant effects, along with many other symptoms, ranging from mild to severe.

A common medication for UTI treatment is called Bactrim, which is the brand name for sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim. Bactrim can interact with alcohol by causing problems with how the body metabolizes folic acid, which can have an effect on blood cell production.

Another antibiotic called linezolid, which is less commonly used to treat UTIs, can also interact with alcohol. This is usually due to a component of some beers and wines, called tyramine, not the alcohol itself. This interaction is not common but can cause elevated heart rate and blood pressure, muscle problems, seizures and fever.

Some antibiotics, called fluoroquinolones, can increase the risk of mental problems or seizures in some patients, which can be compounded by concomitant alcohol use. These antibiotics include Cipro (ciprofloxacin) and Levoquin (levofloxacin).

An antibiotic that has a very common interaction with alcohol is called metronidazole. It is not usually used for UTI treatment, but it’s important to know that mixing it with alcohol is not advisable. Mixing alcohol and metronidazole can cause severe nausea, vomiting, cramping and headaches. Alcohol use should be stopped while taking metronidazole and for three days after the last dose of metronidazole.

Key Points About Alcohol and UTIs

Here are some important points to remember about alcohol and UTIs:

  • Alcohol does not directly cause UTIs
  • Alcohol can decrease the function of the immune system, which can increase the risk of a UTI
  • Sexual activity can increase the risk of UTI development
  • Alcohol irritates the bladder, which can make UTI symptoms feel more uncomfortable
  • Certain UTI antibiotics should not be taken with alcohol
  • Always ask a doctor or pharmacist if it is safe to drink while being treated with antibiotics for a UTI

Next Generation Village takes a holistic approach to treating alcoholism in teens. Contact Next Generation Village today to learn about how individualized treatment plans can help teens achieve long-term sobriety.

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