September 7, 2023

#BORG: A Viral TikTok Trend Is Taking Off Dangerously Among College Students

‘Blackout rage gallons’ promote unsafe drinking behavior

college students looking at a cell phone

BORGan donors. BORGanic chemistry. BORG to be wild.

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A quick search for BORG on any social media app will yield a slew of pun-filled names and instruction videos on how to make your own BORG at home.

BORG is the latest to make the list of dangerous TikTok trends by promoting dangerous drinking behavior among college students and young adults looking for a theoretical safer way to drink alcohol. But what is a BORG, exactly? And why are young partygoers swearing by the activity when it’s actually not as safe as they realize?

Psychiatrist and addiction specialist David Streem, MD, explains details about the viral trend, while also busting some myths on binge drinking.

What is a BORG?

A BORG is a gallon-sized container, often a jug, filled halfway with water, a fifth of vodka or other alcohol, water flavor enhancers and electrolyte powder. Those who drink from BORGs are interested in the trend because it reduces the likelihood of someone spiking your drink with an unknown substance because it’s in a sealed, personal container that you carry around.

Those who drink from BORGs also claim that they help reduce the likelihood of a hangover and other unwanted side effects of drinking alcohol by keeping you hydrated, increasing your levels of electrolytes and diluting the alcohol you consume.

What does BORG stand for?

BORG is an acronym that stands for “blackout rage gallon.” BORG is so-named because it contains enough alcohol in one container to allow for a full night of drinking. Though the name is new, this trend of combining alcohol with water, juice and other nonalcoholic substances has a storied past among college partygoers interested in prolonging the effects of alcohol and blackout behavior.

“The name BORG may be new but the behavior is just garden variety binging,” says Dr. Streem.

Is BORG drinking safe?

“This strategy tries to mitigate the negative physical feelings associated with drinking more than you could otherwise tolerate well,” explains Dr. Streem. “Fundamentally, that’s an unsafe behavior, partly because it fools you into thinking you’re drinking less than you really are.”

The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines a standard drink as having about 14 grams of pure alcohol, equivalent to:

  • A 12-ounce beer (usually about 5% alcohol).
  • A 5-ounce glass of wine (usually about 12% alcohol).
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (usually about 40% alcohol).

That means that in an average BORG, a fifth of alcohol is equivalent to 17 shots — and that’s if you actually measure what you’re putting into a BORG.

“People have made errors when they’re pouring out substances that are unmeasured, and you don’t always know how much you’re drinking,” states Dr. Streem.

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That’s particularly dangerous when you consider the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), classifies binge drinking as:

  • Five or more alcoholic standard drinks on the same occasion for males
  • Four or more alcoholic standard drinks on the same occasion for females.

“You have to focus on how many grams of alcohol you’re consuming,” further explains Dr. Streem. “If you drink the entire gallon jug, you still drink the entire amount of alcohol you poured into it.”

“But what if you drink the entire BORG over the course of an evening instead of a couple of hours?“ you might wonder. Or, “Doesn’t the added water and electrolyte enhancers dilute the alcohol and keep you hydrated so that you can push alcohol out of your system faster?“

No, it doesn’t exactly work that way, largely because your liver can’t handle an exorbitant amount of alcohol and it doesn’t switch into high gear when a larger amount is present.

“Your liver metabolizes alcohol at the same rate no matter whether you drink a small or large amount of alcohol,” clarifies Dr. Streem.

When you drink alcohol, about 20% of it is absorbed through your stomach lining into your bloodstream (which is why you experience the effects of alcohol so quickly after having a drink). The other 80% of alcohol moves on to your small intestine, where the rate of absorption slows down. Over time, your liver needs to find a way to process the alcohol that enters your bloodstream so your body can get rid of it.

But your liver can only process about 1 ounce of alcohol every hour — meaning if you have more than one standard drink in an hour-long period, the alcohol you consume gets backed up in your bloodstream and the surrounding tissues until it can be processed, making for one hell of a traffic jam that takes a long time to clear up.

“If you consume a lot of alcohol, your liver doesn’t metabolize it faster,” notes Dr. Streem. “It’s not a muscle that you can work out and make stronger. You can’t improve your tolerance of alcohol by exposing yourself to more of it. And you can’t train your liver. What will happen instead is your body will adjust to the frequent or constant presence of alcohol in your body and you’ll develop withdrawal symptoms when it’s not there.”

Furthermore, alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it has the ability to increase your body’s production of urine. Translation: You can get drunk and experience significant hangovers even when you’re hydrating and especially if you’re drinking large amounts of alcohol over a short period of time.

Why is BORG drinking so bad?

At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, 46 students were hospitalized for alcohol poisoning after partaking in an off-campus BORG challenge in March 2023.

Alcohol poisoning can happen to anyone. When blood alcohol levels rise, it can overwhelm your liver so that it doesn’t process the alcohol fast enough. This can cause prolonged effects and symptoms like:

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When you’re mixing various liquids and powders with alcohol, it’s hard to tell how much alcohol you’ve consumed without exact measurements. Plus, binge drinking can lead to all sorts of additional symptoms and complications than if you were to have an occasional drink or two — and that’s especially true when it comes to blackout rage gallons.

In some cases, you can also develop pancreatitis, where you consume so much alcohol in a binge that your pancreas becomes inflamed, leading to terrible chronic stomach pain and the uncontrollable urge to vomit.

“You can’t hold anything down and you need to wait until your pancreas recovers to be able to eat again,” says Dr. Streem. “In some cases, that can take a day or two and it can turn into a chronic problem where people are chronically nauseated.”

Safer alternatives to BORGs

For some, BORG drinking seems like a safer alternative to drinking from punch bowls, coolers and other party-wide-available containers.

“If you participate in communal drinking or eating at a party, making a decision to consume those things means you have to make a judgment about the safety and reliability of the person who made it,” recognizes Dr. Streem. “Is that person someone you know well? If you have no idea who made it and they might be reckless with other people’s party experience, you have to take that into account when you decide to put that into your body.”

But as blackout rage gallons carry their own risk for drinking too much too fast, it’s wiser perhaps to rely on a personal, individualized container that’s much smaller than a gallon. Counting the drinks you have, measuring the amount of alcohol you consume and continuing to stay hydrated throughout are all good rules to follow when drinking alcohol. But if you begin to hit your limit, you should know when to stop and when to ask for help.

Knowing how much alcohol is too much can sometimes be difficult. Everyone’s body is different and responds to alcohol in various ways. But generally, the more you consume, the worse your body will feel while intoxicated and in the hours and days after. And if you don’t know your limits, having a breathalyzer on hand can be helpful in knowing how your body feels at different stages.

“We shouldn’t ignore the signals our body is sending us to let us know we’ve had too much to drink,” advises Dr. Streem. “As your dose of alcohol goes higher, the risks of your symptoms increase.”

And when it comes to hangover cures, most theories are just that: theories. The only thing that can stop the lasting effects of alcohol is time, rest and hydration.

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