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Alcohol and UTIs

Key Takeaways

  • A urinary tract infection (UTI) is usually characterized by pain or a burning sensation during urination.
  • Drinking alcohol doesn’t cause UTIs. However, it can indirectly increase your risk by influencing other factors.
  • Alcohol, caffeine, citrus fruits, tomatoes, and spicy foods can irritate the bladder. 
  • Alcohol can interfere with UTI medications.
  • Drinking plenty of water prevents UTI by flushing out bacteria from the urinary tract.
  • Cranberry juice is a well-known natural remedy for UTI.
  • See a doctor if you have UTI symptoms. Complete the entire course of treatment to prevent worsening or recurrence of infection.

Can Alcohol Cause a UTI?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is caused by bacteria. 

Drinking alcohol can’t cause UTIs, though it can indirectly influence other risk factors like:

  • Sexual activity
  • Immune system
  • Bladder irritation 

UTIs affect people of any age and sex, though they more frequently affect women.1, 2

What is Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)?

A UTI is an infection of the urinary system. It’s usually characterized by pain or a burning sensation during urination.

Bacteria, particularly Escherichia coli, cause UTIs. These germs live in the skin near the anus and urethra. They are usually harmless.

Once bacteria enter the urethra, they can trigger various types of UTI:3, 4, 5

  1. Urethritis: Infection of the urethra. The urethra is the tube where urine comes out. It connects the bladder and an opening in the penis or vagina.
  2. Cystitis: Bladder infection caused by bacteria that moved up from the urethra. It’s the most common type of UTI.
  3. Pyelonephritis: Kidney infection. It’s less common but more severe than cystitis.

Symptoms of UTI

Some UTIs don’t have any symptoms. If symptoms occur, they may include:3, 4, 6, 7

  • Pain and burning sensation during urination
  • Frequent urination
  • Passing small amounts of urine despite the strong urge to urinate
  • Cloudy urine
  • Foul-smelling urine
  • Blood in urine
  • Pelvic pain 
  • Back pain
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion in older people

Risk Factors of UTI

Risk factors of a UTI include:

Female Anatomy

Women are more prone to UTIs than men. 

In the U.S., up to 60% of women will have at least one UTI in their lifetime. In men, only 12% will be affected.1, 2 

The distance between a woman’s urethra and anus is shorter than that of men. This makes the urethra more accessible to bacteria. 

Women also have a shorter urethra, allowing bacteria to reach the bladder faster.  

Sexual Activity

During intercourse, there is a high chance that bacteria will be pushed into the urethra. 

Sexually active women are more likely to get UTIs than sexually inactive women. Having multiple sexual partners also increases UTI risk.7

Hormonal Changes

Hormone levels change during pregnancy, menopause, and post-menopause. This causes several body changes that make women more susceptible to UTIs.1, 8

Impaired Immune System

Diabetes and certain diseases that weaken the immune system can increase the risk of UTI. If you have a weak immune system, your body will have a hard time fighting infections.9, 10

Catheter

A patient with a urinary catheter has a 3 to 7% increased risk of getting a catheter-associated UTI.11

Contraceptives

Some contraceptives, like diaphragms and spermicidal foams, are linked to UTIs.10, 12  

Incomplete Emptying of the Bladder 

Kidney stones and an enlarged prostate can increase UTI risk by trapping urine in the bladder. Urine might sit in the bladder longer than usual if the person has undergone surgery.9

Impaired bladder function and abnormal urinary structures (like a narrowed urethra) may also prevent the bladder from emptying completey.10

Genetics

Some people are genetically predisposed to UTIs.10

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Alcohol and UTI

UTIs are caused by bacteria. 

Alcohol can’t cause UTIs. However, it can indirectly increase the risk of a UTI through other factors: 

1. Sexual Activity

Alcohol consumption can indirectly increase UTI risk through sexual activity, particularly in women. 

Alcohol can lower inhibitions, which may lead people to engage in sex. Frequent sex means a higher chance of developing a UTI.7

2. Impaired Immune System

People have a higher risk of getting infections if they drink alcohol. This is because alcohol can weaken the immune system. 

If you have a weak immune system, your body will have a harder time fighting infections like a UTI.13 

3. Irritating the Bladder 

Alcohol irritates the bladder. This can worsen the symptoms in a person with an existing UTI.14, 15 

Does a Painful Bladder After Drinking Indicate a UTI? 

A painful bladder is a common UTI symptom. But it can be also be caused by other factors like:

  • Alcohol: The substance itself can irritate the bladder and cause discomfort.14, 15
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs): Some STDs are confused with UTIs as they share some symptoms.4
  • Other infections: Yeast and other bacterial infections can also cause blood in the urine and a burning sensation during urination.4 
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Why You Shouldn’t Drink Alcohol if You Have a UTI 

Two reasons why you should avoid alcohol if you have UTI: 

1. Alcohol Can Irritate the Bladder

Alcohol is acidic and can cause bladder irritation. This can happen whether or not you have UTI. 

It’s worse, though, if you already have the infection.14, 15

2. Alcohol Can Interfere with UTI Treatment

As UTIs are caused by bacteria, antibiotics can cure them. However, alcohol can interfere with certain medications. 

Take sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim (a common antibiotic for UTI) as an example. 

If you take this medication with alcohol, you’ll experience unpleasant side effects like nausea, flushing, and increased heart rate.16

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What Else to Avoid With a UTI 

Here are other foods and drinks that can cause bladder irritation and worsen UTI symptoms:14, 15 

  • Caffeine: Another bladder irritant. Avoid coffee, tea, and chocolate until you’re UTI-free.
  • Fruits: Citrus fruits (like lemon, oranges, and grapefruits) and tomatoes are highly acidic and irritate the bladder.
  • Artificial sweeteners: Bad for people with chronic cystitis.
  • Beverages: Examples include caffeinated, citrus-flavored, carbonated, and artificially-sweetened drinks.
  • Spicy foods: These foods contain ingredients that can cause further bladder irritation.

Foods and Drinks That Can Help a UTI 

Here are some remedies that can help if you have a UTI:  

Water

Several studies have linked UTI and infrequent urination due to low fluid intake.17, 18, 19 

Drinking plenty of water flushes out bacteria from the bladder. This also reduces the concentration of bacteria along the urethra. 

Cranberry Juice

Evidence is mixed on the effectiveness of cranberry juice. However, it remains popular as a natural remedy for a UTI.5, 20, 21, 22 

It contains proanthocyanidins, chemicals that can block bacteria from sticking to the bladder lining.23, 24, 25

Probiotics

Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide various health benefits. 

You can find them in fermented foods like kimchi, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, and yogurt. You can also take them as supplements.  

Inside the digestive tract, probiotics can restore the good bacteria destroyed by antibiotics. 

There are reports that Lactobacillus, a common probiotic, prevents UTI in adult women.25, 26 

D-Mannose

There’s evidence that D-mannose is effective in treating and preventing UTI.27 

It’s a type of sugar found in some fruits (like apples and peaches) and vegetables (like cabbage and broccoli).

When to See a Doctor

A UTI doesn’t always cause symptoms. 

If you do have symptoms, that means your body can no longer handle the infection on its own. If left untreated, UTI can become more severe once it spreads to the kidneys or bloodstream. 

It would be best if you see the doctor in the following cases:6

  • You experience UTI symptoms for the first time
  • Your symptoms got worse or did not improve within two days
  • Your symptoms returned after treatment
  • You’re pregnant
  • You’re older
  • You have a weak immune system
  • You developed symptoms after a surgery

The doctor will ask you for a urine sample. The testing lab will look for white blood cells, red blood cells, proteins, bacteria, and other microorganisms. 

Sometimes, they will do a urine culture to determine which antibiotics will work for you. They may also do an ultrasound or a CT Scan to check if your urinary tract is normal.

After the tests, the doctor will prescribe an antibiotic. You must complete the entire course of treatment. If not, the infection may return, or you may develop antibiotic resistance.

The doctor may recommend other remedies to relieve any discomfort. This includes pain relievers, drinking plenty of water, and heating pads for pelvic and back pain. 

The doctor will also advise you to avoid alcohol, caffeine, and other foods and drinks that can cause bladder irritation and worsen UTI symptoms.3, 10

Despite mixed evidence, cranberry juice remains a popular home remedy for UTI.

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Updated on April 8, 2022
27 sources cited
  1. Medina, Martha, and Edgardo Castillo-Pino. “An introduction to the epidemiology and burden of urinary tract infections.Therapeutic advances in urology vol. 11 1756287219832172. 2 May. 2019. 
  2. Bennett, Vicky. “Cranberry juice won’t cut it: UTIs and the potential for repurposing drugs.The Guardian, November 6, 2021.
  3. Greenstein, Marc, Raymond Turley Jr., and Raymond Kent Turley. “Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs).Cedars-Sinai. 
  4. Urinary Tract Infection.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, October 6, 2021.
  5. Hisano, Marcelo et al. “Cranberries and lower urinary tract infection prevention.Clinics (Sao Paulo, Brazil) vol. 67,6 : 661-8.
  6. Urinary tract infections (UTIs).” NHS.
  7. Vincent, Charles et al. “Symptoms and risk factors associated with first urinary tract infection in college age women: a prospective cohort study.J Urol vol. 189,3 :904-10.
  8. Habak, Patricia and Robert Griggs, Jr. “Urinary Tract Infection In Pregnancy.” [Updated 2021 Jul 10]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-.
  9. Urinary tract infection - adults.MedlinePlus
  10. What is a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) in Adults?Urology Care Foundation, American Urological Association. 
  11. Urinary Tract Infection (Catheter-Associated Urinary Tract Infection [CAUTI] and Non-Catheter-Associated Urinary Tract Infection [UTI]) Events.National Healthcare Safety Network, January 2021.
  12. Fihn, SD et al. “Association between diaphragm use and urinary tract infection.JAMA vol. 254,2 :240-5. 
  13. Sarkar, Dipak et al. “Alcohol and the Immune System.Alcohol Research : Current Reviews vol. 37,2 : 153–155. 
  14. Interstitial Cystitis: A Bladder Problem.Am Fam Physician vol. 64, 7 :1212-1214.
  15. Miller, Janis M et al. “Does Instruction to Eliminate Coffee, Tea, Alcohol, Carbonated, and Artificially Sweetened Beverages Improve Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms?: A Prospective Trial.Journal of wound, ostomy, and continence nursing : official publication of The Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nurses Society vol. 43,1 : 69-79. 
  16. Can I drink alcohol while taking sulfamethoxazole / trimethoprim DS tablets?Drugs.com, September 16, 2020.
  17. Infectious Diseases Society of America. "Women who get frequent UTIs may reduce risk by drinking plenty of water." ScienceDaily, 5 October 2017.
  18. Mazzola, Brunello et al. “Behavioral and functional abnormalities linked with recurrent urinary tract infections in girls.J Nephrol vol. 16, 1 :133-8. 
  19. McCollum, Benjamin, Thomas Garigan, and  John Earwood. “PURL: Can drinking more water prevent urinary tract infections?The Journal of family practice vol. 69,3 : E19-E20.
  20. Maki, Kevin et al. “Consumption of a cranberry juice beverage lowered the number of clinical urinary tract infection episodes in women with a recent history of urinary tract infection.Am J Clin Nutr vol. 103,6 :1434-4.
  21. Foxman, Betsy et al. “Cranberry juice capsules and urinary tract infection after surgery: results of a randomized trial.Am J Obstet Gynecol vol. 213,2 :194.e1-8. 
  22. Jepson, Ruth, Gabrielle Williams, and Jonathan Craig. “Cranberries for preventing urinary tract infections.Cochrane Database Syst Rev vol. 10,10 :CD001321. 
  23. Gupta, Ashish et al. “Inhibition of adherence of multi-drug resistant E. coli by proanthocyanidin.Urol Res vol. 40,2 :143-50.
  24. Pinzón-Arango, Paola, Yatao Liu, and Terri Camesano. “Role of cranberry on bacterial adhesion forces and implications for Escherichia coli-uroepithelial cell attachment.J Med Food vol. 12,2 :259-70. 
  25. Beerepoot, Mariëlle, and Suzanne Geerlings. “Non-Antibiotic Prophylaxis for Urinary Tract Infections.Pathogens (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 5,2 :36. 
  26. Grin, Peter et al. “Lactobacillus for preventing recurrent urinary tract infections in women: meta-analysis.Can J Urol vol. 20,1 :6607-14. 
  27. Domenici, L et al. “D-mannose: a promising support for acute urinary tract infections in women. A pilot study.Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci vol. 20,13 :2920-5.

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