After an annual St. Patrick Day’s celebration at UMass Amherst sent 46 people to the hospital for alcohol intoxication, town and university officials noted the use of “borgs” as a major contributor.
But what exactly are borgs, and are they harmful? Here’s what experts have to say.
What are borgs?
Borgs, short for blackout rage gallon, is the latest social media trend popular across college campuses. The drink is created by filling a plastic gallon jug with half water, half alcohol, a caffeinated flavor enhancer, and electrolytes, according to TikTok videos showing how to make the drink.
However, the water-to-alcohol ratio is up to individual preference.
Videos online show people labeling their jugs with funny names with the word ‘borg’ in them — like Borgan Freeman — and consuming the drink over the course of a daylong party or tailgate.
Why are they popular?
Dr. Gus Colangelo, an emergency medicine physician at Tufts Medical Center, said borgs are being promoted online as a more healthy way of consuming alcohol, but experts are skeptical of the claims.
“It’s said that you can control the amount that you drink by controlling the amount of alcohol that’s in the borg,” Colangelo said.
Jonathan Dees, a 21-year-old UMass Amherst student, said borgs are not new to college students and are popular because many students believe they are good way to stay hydrated despite the large amount of alcohol in them.
Thanks to the added flavoring, borgs also taste good, Dees said, though he has only tried a few sips.
David Jernigan, a Boston University professor who researches alcohol policy, said as college students worry about date rape drugs, some believe the plastic jug’s lid could keep strangers from spiking their drinks, another claim that experts say doesn’t always hold up.
Colangelo also said the trend has become popular because it’s fun to make your own drink.
“You put some flavors in it; you make it taste the way you want,” Colangelo said. “You write a funny name on your borg, you joke around with your friends, you encourage your friends to drink your borg, and so it turns drinking into a game.”
Some TikTok users said alcohol isn’t necessary in the drink, and those not wanting to drink alcohol can still join the trend.
Are there any harms?
While TikTok videos with the tag “#borg” continue to grow, experts raised concerns over the trend.
Colangelo said while the drink gives students a sense of control over how much alcohol they consume, this causes students to misjudge how drunk they are because of how much alcohol is put in borgs.
Colangelo said some put about a fifth of vodka in their drinks, which is the equivalent of about 16 shots.
“16 shots in a week is considered unhealthy drinking,” Colangelo said, let alone that amount in one day.
He also said some students have told him that they will drink borgs before they go out for the official drinking of the night.
Jernigan said college students are not trained mixologists who understand how to mix drinks and how much alcohol to put in a drink.
“Supposedly, they’re controlling the strength [of the alcohol] and it depends on how much alcohol they decide to put in it,” Jernigan said. “But if you’re drinking in a licensed establishment, then the servers and establishment are liable for ensuring that you don’t drink to intoxication.”
The dangers of adding caffeine
Colangelo said the mixing of caffeine, a natural stimulant, and alcohol, a natural depressant, is also harmful, as the caffeine makes it harder for someone to judge how drunk they are.
Jernigan adds that research has shown that alcoholic energy drinks can result in impaired judgement and risk taking, which is why there has been a national ban on caffeinated alcoholic drinks since 2010.
“[Alcoholic energy drinks] were creating a population of wide-awake drunks who hadn’t fallen asleep,” Jernigan said. “They were showing up in emergency rooms at remarkable numbers, and that’s why the FDA acted.”
Busting social media myths
Colangelo said the main danger is how social media is promoting the supposed benefits of borg drinking when those benefits are false. The electrolytes and the caffeine will not prevent students from the toxic effect of alcohol or the after-effects, he said.
He added that borgs do not help drinkers avoid spiked drinks, as it is common for borgs to be passed around from person to person, which can expose people to other bodily fluids as well as drugs or other alcohol.
“If you have a cup of alcohol, you can carry that with you,” Colangelo said. “But a gallon jug of alcohol is heavy, and people will put it down and turn away, so it doesn’t protect you from having your drink be tampered with.”
Dees said that at the UMass Amherst St. Patrick Day’s celebration, borgs were passed around from student to student.
Colangelo said the silliness behind the trend, as well as the social pressure to join in, makes borgs a risky form of binge drinking.
“Binge drinking itself is not new,” Colangelo said. “The risk of the borg is that people feel that they’re able to maintain a level of safety, and that is just not the case.”