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What's a borg? The latest college drinking trend, explained

Alcoholic liver diseases in young people surge
Alcoholic liver diseases in young people surge 02:01

TikTok has given us a peek into the latest college drinking trend: the borg.

The name is short for "blackout rage gallon" and consists of students taking a gallon jug of water, emptying it a bit to fit in their desired amount of alcohol and adding in some sort of flavoring like water-enhancing drops or powdered drink mixes. The hashtag #borg has garnered more than 74.7 million views on TikTok.

What do you need to know about the craze? Experts we spoke with highlighted a number of concerns — but also a few ways to reduce the risk.

"As with any other vehicle for consuming alcohol, the risks will primarily depend on how much alcohol a person consumes and how quickly they consume it," explains Dr. George F. Koob, the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism at the National Institutes of Health. "Quite simply, as alcohol consumption goes up, so do the risks of injuries, fights, sexual assaults, emergency department visits, blackouts, car crashes and other harms."

A borg drinking challenge recently landed dozens of students at UMass Amherst in the hospital.

Though the addition of water and sometimes electrolyte drink mixes may help slow down alcohol consumption and reduce the risk of hangovers, Nicole Barr, direct services coordinator at the University of North Carolina Wilmington's Abrons Student Health Center, says there is still concern about the size of borgs encouraging binge drinking.

Barr has mostly seen recipes that call for a fifth of alcohol, which is about 16 drinks or so.

"That's a lot for any person to ingest, especially in one sitting. So that was a huge concern," she says.

A standard serving of 40% or 80 proof vodka is 1.5 ounces; Koob has seen some borg recipes that call for a half gallon, which equals about 43 servings of alcohol. 

"Consuming this much alcohol would be fatal for the vast majority of people, even if spread out over a full day," he notes. "It is unknown how many students actually follow borg recipes that call for a half gallon of vodka, but doing so could turn deadly depending on how much they end up consuming."

Koob adds, there is "no known perfectly safe level of alcohol consumption."

In addition, some borg recipes call for caffeinated flavor enhancer, which may pose an additional risk. Koob explains some of these products can contain 1000 milligrams or more of caffeine, which is equivalent to about 10 cups of coffee.

"It's important for students to know that caffeine, particularly in large amounts, can interfere with the ability to recognize how intoxicated one is, which can increase the risks of negative outcomes," he says.

Are there any upsides to the trend? In terms of risk reduction, borgs may have an edge compared to other college drinking trends like "jungle juice" or "party juice," communal vats of alcoholic beverages.

"There are certain obvious benefits to drinking from one's own container and not sharing it," Koob says. "It's always better to know what is in one's drink than to trust whoever mixed up something like a communal drink bowl."

Barr agrees communal drinks are dangerous for a variety of reasons — you don't know what germs are lurking in the container or the hands that mixed it, you don't know what else is mixed in and it's hard to know how many drinks you're having.

For example, it can be "really surprising to students to hear that just one Solo cup of (party juice) can be around five drinks," she says. 

@uncwhealthpromo #duet with @erin.monroe_ #borg Check out what Danielle, our Coordinator of Prevention & Recovery, has to say about borgs! This CAN be a great way to practice safe drinking strategies when utlaized appropriately. Spacing and pacing your drinks is a great way to stay hydrated and help you count how many aclohol related beverages you may consume. Remember that you get to choose what goes into your borg and you don’t need to include alcohol. Drinking 128 ounces of ANYTHING is not safe and we do not advise anyone to do so. #alcoholawareness #harmreductionstrategies #borgawareness #healthpromotion #publichealth ♬ Aesthetic - Tollan Kim

Gallon jugs also have lids; a closed container provides another type of risk reduction.

"We always love to see that sort of thing because that limits, if not completely gets rid of the possibility of someone being drugged or having something put into their drink that they did not want in their drink," Barr says.

And since students are making these concoctions themselves, they have the opportunity to control how alcohol much they consume — from a little to none at all, which is something Barr's team highlighted in a TikTok about borgs and risk reduction tips.

"We wanted students to know that they have the choice to not put alcohol in there," she explains. "If they want to make a borg and participate in that, they can put just a couple shots in there if they choose to, or none at all."

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