Almost 10 million prescriptions for antibiotics were written in the U.S. in the first half of 2020 alone.
One of the most commonly prescribed antibiotics is cephalexin, a broad-spectrum antibiotic used to treat urinary tract infections, strep throat, and other bacterial conditions.
When you’re taking cephalexin for a urinary tract infection or other condition, you may not feel sick—so you may want a drink if you’re meeting with friends or family.
But is drinking alcohol while taking cephalexin safe?
There are risks with pairing alcohol and antibiotics.
In this article, I’ll talk more about cephalexin and how it works.
I’ll also explain why you shouldn’t mix this medication with alcohol—including outlining some side effects and complications that may occur.
Finally, I’ll tell you when it’s best to talk with your doctor or another healthcare professional.
What is Cephalexin?
Cephalexin is in a class of antibiotics called cephalosporins.
It is a broad-spectrum antibiotic, meaning that it is effective against a wide variety of bacteria.
It works by disrupting the growth of the bacterial cell wall, preventing the bacteria from multiplying.
As a result, cephalexin is used to treat many different bacterial infections, including skin and respiratory tract infections.
Cephalexin is used to treat common bacterial illnesses, including infections in the respiratory tract, bones, skin, ears, genitals, and urinary tract.
It is on the World Health Organization’s Model List of Essential Medicines thanks to its wide range of uses and overall effectiveness.
Cephalexin is considered a broad-spectrum antibiotic because it’s effective in fighting many common bacteria, including:
- Streptococcus pneumoniae
- Streptococcus pyogenes
- Haemophilus influenzae
- Staphylococcus aureus
- Moraxella catarrhalis
- Escherichia coli
- Proteus mirabilis
- Klebsiella pneumoniae
Using Alcohol With Cephalexin
General medical advice says not to mix antibiotics with alcohol.
Cephalexin will not result in serious adverse reactions when taken with alcohol.
However, there are other reasons not to mix them.
These can also be side effects of antibiotics.
If you are consuming two substances that can both effect how you feel, it can be difficult to determine which one is causing the problem.
It is, however, important to know if those symptoms are due to the antibiotics, as they can be an indicator of a more severe medication reaction, or a worsening infection.
In other cases, alcohol may limit how effective the antibiotic is.
Most antibiotics are at least partially processed by the liver, and, generally speaking, when alcohol is consumed, the liver prioritizes metabolizing the alcohol.
Mixing alcohol these antibiotics can result in the delayed clearing of the antibiotics, which can result in toxicity or other severe adverse reactions.
It may also influence how effective the antibiotic is at treating the infection.
Animal studies on cephalexin and alcohol note that alcohol can cause absorption of the medication to be decreased and may change the rate at which the medication leaves your body.
Possible Side Effects
The side effects of cephalexin on its own are:
The side effects of alcohol can include many similar symptoms, making it hard to identify the cause if you are consuming both of them in the same day.
Alcohol and UTIs
Medical advice usually instructs people being treated for UTIs to avoid potentially irritating beverages like coffee, tea, and alcohol.
But when you’re already feeling unwell and having to manage an infection, suddenly changing your entire routine can be hard.
One study showed that even when advised to eliminate these potentially irritating beverages, almost everyone in still consumed them, just less often.
Only your health care provider can give you a definitive answer as to whether it is safe for you to consume alcohol while being treated for a urinary tract infection.
The type of antibiotic you take will also make a difference.
Be sure that you understand your pharmacy’s instructions.
Some antibiotics can have severe consequences, like permanent liver damage, if you pair them with alcohol.
Alcohol also has a well-established impact on how your immune system works—or doesn’t work.
Alcohol is well known to decrease the strength of your immune system, changing the way that your body can respond to infections or pathogenic threats.
Given this effect on the immune system and its potential impact on the effectiveness of antibiotics, it is generally recommended to avoid consuming alcohol while taking antibiotics for any infection, including UTIs.
When To See A Doctor
If you are taking medication for an infection but are feeling worse, it’s important to speak with your doctor right away
The same is true if you consume alcohol or any other substances while taking antibiotics and begin to feel sick, or have any other new or concerning symptoms.
Your medical care team is there to answer questions and to help you find effective treatments, which includes managing side effects and adverse effects of those treatments.
How K Health Can Help
If you have questions about your cephalexin prescription or whether you can safely have an alcoholic drink at a work event while you are taking antibiotics, you can get clear, helpful answers from the comfort of your own home.
K Health is changing the way that primary care medicine works by making it work for you. You can get affordable, high-quality primary care directly from the K Health app.
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Fact versus fiction: a review of the evidence behind alcohol and antibiotic interactions. (2020).
Effects of ethanol on the pharmacokinetics of cephalexin and cefadroxil in the rat. (1991).
Does instruction to eliminate coffee, tea, alcohol, carbonated, and artificially sweetened beverages improve lower urinary tract symptoms: A Prospective Trial. (2016).
Alcohol and the immune system. (2015).