Can You Drink Alcohol While Taking Cephalexin?

By Zina Semenovskaya, MD
Medically reviewed
December 17, 2021

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.

Have questions about a cephalexin prescription? Chat with a doctor today for just $23

Chat Now

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.

Uses

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.

Some antibiotics cause severe adverse reactions when combined with alcohol, including nitroimidazole antimicrobials, and isoniazid

Cephalexin will not result in serious adverse reactions when taken with alcohol.

However, there are other reasons not to mix them.

Alcohol can cause unpleasant side effects on its own, like nausea, vomiting, or headaches.

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.

The researchers found that women nonetheless still experienced improved UTI symptoms just by modestly cutting back on alcohol, coffee, and tea.

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.  

Have questions about a cephalexin prescription? Chat with a doctor today for just $23

Chat Now

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.

Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

What antibiotic can I not drink alcohol with?
Most doctors will suggest that avoiding all alcohol while antibiotics is best. But some antibiotics can have especially severe interactions. You should never consume alcohol when you are taking nitroimidazole antimicrobials, isoniazid, or linezolid. Serious changes to blood pressure or potentially fatal liver damage can occur.
Will I need to be on antibiotics for longer if I drink alcohol while taking them?
Maybe. Alcohol may change the way that your body absorbs medicine. If you consume them at the same time, it may affect your dosage or weaken the treatment of your infection. Follow your doctor’s instructions when taking your medication. There is no guarantee that you would need to take antibiotics longer, but since alcohol can change the way the immune system works and the way the medication gets absorbed and processed, it may increase your risk of a worsening or incompletely treated infection. It is essential that you follow the instructions for your specific prescription to get the benefits from it.
What can I not take when using cephalexin?
Cephalexin has some medication interactions. If you are taking cephalexin, be sure that your doctor also knows about your other medications, including over-the-counter drugs, supplements, herbs, or vitamins. Cephalexin is known to interact with warfarin and other blood thinners, metformin, furosemide, probenecid, and zinc supplements.

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.

Zina Semenovskaya, MD

Dr. Semenovskaya specializes in emergency medicine, and received her medical degree from Weill Cornell Medical College. She is currently the medical director at Remote Emergency Medicine Consulting, LLC and splits her time working clinically as an emergency medicine attending in California and Alaska. She is the first of our doctors to be fluent in Russian.