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The Dangers of BORG Drinking

The BORG drinking trend has its roots in the harm reduction movement, but it’s far from harmless. In fact, people who follow some of the online recipes shown on TikTok could be putting their health and future at risk.

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Combine water, alcohol, caffeine, and artificial flavorings in a one-gallon jug. Shake to mix. Write a pun-filled name on the outside with a black marker. Head out for an evening with your drink in hand. 

Young people scrolling through TikTok videos in March 2023 saw plenty of videos with instructions just like this, and some of them jumped on the trend with disastrous results. 

If your children have ever used the word “BORG” when talking about a party, they’ve heard about this trend too.

What Is the BORG Drink?

The acronym BORG stands for “blackout rage gallon.” The drink was first spotted at college campus parties in March 2023, but it was present on TikTok for a bit longer. No one is quite sure where the idea came from, but it’s proven to be quite popular. 

Recipes vary, but most include the following ingredients:

  • Plastic gallon jug of water (with half the contents removed)
  • Fifth of alcohol, such as vodka or Everclear
  • Sugary drink mix packet, such as Crystal Light or Buoy Hydration
  • Caffeine element, such as Red Bull

All items fit into the plastic gallon jug, which is shaken hard for mixing purposes. People are typically encouraged to personalize the BORG by writing a play on the acronym on the outside of the jug. Ruth Bader GinsBORG or Heisen-BORG are two examples.

How Did BORG Become a Trend?

Mixology isn’t new. For decades, humans have looked for new drink combinations that taste good and pack a punch. Plastic containers with sealed tops are appealing on-the-go drinks, and people have used them for alcohol for years. But specific BORG recipes were likely born on TikTok.

As of March 2023, the hashtag #BORG has racked up more than 98 million TikTok views. Most content is recipe and technique based, designed to teach others how to make the perfect party drink, but some contain harm reduction management techniques. 

Harm reduction involves accepting substance use while minimizing its dangers. Someone using this approach will still drink at parties, for example, but they will take steps to ensure they don’t pay for the decision as much the next day. 

It’s a popular approach for people with alcohol use disorders (AUDs), as about 94 percent of people with AUD and homelessness say they’d redesign treatment programs with these techniques rather than enforcing abstinence. 

From a harm reduction perspective, a BORG offers the following benefits:

  • Knowledge: You understand exactly what’s inside every sip you take. 
  • Control: You decide how much you’ll drink when you’re sober, not when you’re impaired and surrounded by friends. 
  • Limits: When your drink is finished, you’re done for the night. 

Plenty of TikTok videos discuss these benefits and tell viewers that using a BORG is a good way to party without harming their bodies. 

A BORG’s lid can also offer protection from drink spiking. In a study of college students, about 8 percent said they’d had an unknown drug added to their drinks, and about 80 percent of these victims were female. Sexual assaults are easier to accomplish when victims are severely impaired. 

A BORG user might feel stronger and more empowered when their drink is capped, labeled, and in their possession all night. An open punchbowl might be very different. When they see the suggestion on TikTok as a way to stay safer, they might share the idea with their friends. 

Is BORG Drinking Dangerous & Why?

While BORG drinks might stem from harm reduction strategies, the current recipes are far from safe. And the way young people discuss these drinks doesn’t seem rooted in specific health benefits.

These are a few of the known dangers associated with BORG drinking: 

Far Too Much Alcohol

Many BORG recipes involve adding an entire bottle of very strong liquor. In many cases, these recipes add the equivalent of 17 shots of alcohol to a container, which users are expected to drink during the course of one evening.

Experts define binge drinking as consuming five or more drinks on one occasion for men or four or more drinks on one occasion for women. The average BORG contains at least twice that much.

Alcohol is a sedative drug, capable of slowing breathing rates to fatal levels. The more a person drinks, the higher the risk of accidental death. Every day, an average of six people die in the United States from alcohol poisoning. 

Caffeine Masks Alcohol

Recipes calling for additives like Red Bull can be particularly dangerous. Some BORG drinkers may feel the impact of alcohol and voluntarily limit how much more they consume. But caffeine can mask the depressant effects of alcohol, luring people into believing they can drink more. 

BORG Normalizes Heavy Drinking

No one should drink alcohol with the goal of a blackout. But the BORG drinks have “blackout” in the name, enticing people to believe that alcohol is best consumed in large quantities all at once. For some people, this leads to a lifetime of struggles with AUD. 

Severe Hangovers

People add electrolytes and supplement powders to a BORG, believing they’ll stay hydrated throughout the night and feel fine the next day. There’s no hard evidence that these additions prevent hangovers. Some studies suggest they can have the opposite effect.

While a bad hangover could keep some people from trying a BORG a second time, severe symptoms could also lead to significant dehydration and health problems. 

Who Is Most Likely to Try BORG Drinking?

Women ages 18 to 24 make up 21 percent of TikTok’s global audience. Since BORG drinks are trending on TikTok, women are most likely to see the content and try it. And since they’re told these drinks could keep them safer from sexual assault, they might believe they’re making a smart drink choice with a BORG. 

College students fall into this age bracket, and the BORG trend seems especially strong on college campuses. In March 2023, close to 50 college students were hospitalized after participating in a party with plenty of BORG drinkers. More are likely to follow. 

BORG & Binge Drinking Trends

Young people and excessive drinking often go hand in hand, but researchers say heavy drinking trends have changed since COVID-19.

Among adults, 60 percent reported increased drinking when compared to pre-COVID conditions. Some people used alcohol to mark an end to the workday (rather than driving home in the car), and others drank more to mask stress and worry.

Young people watching their parents drink too much could become convinced that these habits are healthy and normal, and they could change their habits accordingly. Some adults who shifted their habits during COVID never returned to their former patterns, so they continue to influence their children in harmful ways.

College students who remember the in-person experience drank less during COVID as they had limited access and few social opportunities. Now that they’ve returned to campus, they may be willing to drink more to make up for lost time. Bingeing with BORG may seem ideal to them. 

BORG Drinking Prevention Tips

Social media’s influence is both strong and omnipresent. As parents, it’s not easy to encourage our children to listen to us and ignore the voices coming from their phones. But a quick conversation about BORG could be helpful, and it could have a bigger impact than you think.

Talk to your child about these topics:

  • Harm reduction: It’s smart for kids to protect their drinks and their health. But explain that harm reduction also involves drinking less, not more. Drinking large amounts of alcohol can quickly put them in harm’s way.
  • Healthier recipes: Talk about how much your child should drink at a party — if anything. Perhaps adding just two shots to a half-gallon of water is a better BORG for a 21+ student. A half-gallon of flavored water with no alcohol is even better. Stress the importance of spacing out drinks if they do decide to consume.
  • Peer pressure: Let your child tell you why they feel the need to drink heavily at a party. Role-play some common responses to help your child learn how to set healthy limits and stick to them. Preparation can help them to stay strong and feel good in the moment.

Tell your child that you’re always available as a party pickup. If you live nearby, you can drive to a party and take the child home. If not, you can be a friendly voice on the phone until their Uber arrives. Make it clear that under no circumstances should they ever get behind the wheel after drinking or into a car with someone who has been drinking.

Open, honest communication between a parent and a child can lead to fewer binge drinking episodes and a healthier relationship in the long term. Keep talking about these trends, and you can be a safe source of advice and support for your child. 

Updated March 21, 2024
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