The Pros (Yes, Pros) and Cons of the Gen Z BORG Drinking Trend, According to a Harm Reduction Expert
All over TikTok, you can find videos of college students slamming a repurposed gallon-sized (or half-gallon-sized) milk jug on a counter in front of their propped-up phones complete with alcohol, water, and electrolyte packets—which are powders that you can mix into water to rehydrate yourself and replace lost minerals after a sweaty workout—mixed together. This is promptly followed by an invitation to "GRWM while I fill my BORG." In case you're not aware, that stands for, "get ready with me while I fill my Black Out Rage Gallon." On the surface, this probably doesn’t sound great, but some people are pointing out that the BORG trend is innovative for a few reasons, while others are calling it out as being potentially dangerous.
That’s why we talked with Mike Selick, MSW, associate director of capacity building at the National Harm Reduction Coalition to get a handle on whether this new trend is all bad or if there is more to the story.
"Students need to understand what makes drinking more harmful, how to understand the alcohol content in various common kinds of drinks, and we need to make sure college students are able to call for help without fear of consequences."—Mike Selick, a Harm Reduction Expert
What is harm reduction, and how does BORG fit into it?
At face value, Black Out Rage Gallon does not scream "safe drinking habit." Yet, there are some elements that, when done correctly, can have safer, harm-reductive elements to them.
Harm reduction refers to the set of values around public health that seek to make potentially harmful activities safer, like safer drug use, drinking, and sex. For example, instead of encouraging people to stop doing drugs, harm reduction organizations and programs advocate for and execute safer injection sites and needle exchange programs.
This is based on the belief that people will still do potentially harmful behaviors, but it's worth it to make those situations safer. Sharing needles can be extremely dangerous for the human body, often causing infections, like sepsis, HIV, or hepatitis C. Safer injection sites and needle exchanges have a profound impact on people experiencing addiction as they attempt to reduce the level of harm present.
"Harm Reduction is a movement that pursues public health as social justice. It is based on the principles of harm reduction that recognize and respect the dignity, autonomy, health, and rights of people who use drugs," says Selick. Harm reduction is best known for a set of public health interventions that reduce the harms of drugs and sex. But, the principles also apply to drinking alcohol.
"When we apply harm reduction to alcohol and underage drinking, it is important to recognize that underage drinking is going to happen and has been happening for all of history," says Selick. Harm reduction strategies include things like having a designated driver or taking a cab when drunk instead of driving while under the influence of alcohol. So, whether we’re talking about the BORG, binge drinking, or going to the bar, we know that there are ways of drinking that are less harmful than other ways, he adds.
Binge drinking, BORG or not, is particularly dangerous and is common among underage drinkers. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a national survey reported that 53 percent of full-time college students ages 18 to 22 drank alcohol in the past month, and about 33 percent engaged in binge drinking during that same time frame.
So one harm reduction method could be to slow down your drinking so that you have time to feel the effects of the alcohol before you drink more or even switch to drinking less potent drinks. That said, let’s walk through some of the unique dangers of the BORG, and a few aspects that may even be considered beneficial.
The biggest dangers associated with the BORG trend
1. Too much alcohol is dangerous
Some might argue that the water and electrolytes in a BORG negate some of the harmful effects of alcohol, but the reality is too much liquor is just that. The NIAA defines binge drinking as four drinks for women and five drinks for men (1.5 fl oz of liquor equaling one drink). The level of drunk you feel and how quickly depends on a lot of factors, but adding more than a safe drinking amount to your BORG admittedly makes it a risky decision.
2. The added flavoring can make it hard to taste the alcohol
How much, how fast, and how noticeable the alcohol that's being consumed affects your drinking experience, says Selick. The BORGs can help keep you hydrated due to their electrolyte content and added water, but if the added flavorings, juices, powders, and such mask the flavor of the liquor you are consuming, it can cause you to become intoxicated more quickly without realizing it, he says.
3. This concoction might make you assume you are drinking less than you really are
Additionally, adding hydrating elements to the BORG could cause people to overestimate the safety of their drink and consume too much. Making sure you still recognize your BORG as having strong alcohol in it (if it does) is important for staying safe and not drinking more than you intended.
A few ways the BORG trend could promote safer drinking habits
1. It prioritizes hydration
Safety issues aside, BORGs do prioritize hydration and hangover prevention by consisting of a lot of water and hydrating electrolyte packets. This is a step towards harm reduction in a sense, compared to other binge drinking habits that simply don't consider this aspect of drinking. “If you put less alcohol in the bottle and keep more water, add some electrolytes, this can all be helpful to prevent hangovers and feeling sick from drinking,” says Selick.
2. The person making the drink is in control of what is in it
Unfortunately, date rape drugs known as "roofies" are often added to open-mouth cups at college parties or added to drinks made by someone else before being given to another person, and that's one way that the BORG might actually be a good idea. “There are people who are highlighting how a BORG can be made by the person consuming it so they have the power to decide what goes in it,” says Selick.
The nature of the lidded jug—and sometimes a strap that people have added to it to wear at football games—is a safer option than open cups or unattended glasses. That said, they aren't tamper-proof and could still be accessed by opening the jug when the BORG owner isn't paying attention.
3. It's a set amount (as long as it's not too much)
If the BORG maker measures out the liquor they add to their jug, it can potentially be a safer way to consume alcohol since it's a set amount, says Selick. Though, that doesn't account for other drinks consumed while out and about. However, the fixed amount could be beneficial if one plans to stick to it solely and it is within a "safe" amount as defined by the NIAAA.
4. You can get in on the BORG trend without using alcohol
Peer pressure is a huge aspect of college drinking and partying. With a BORG, it is possible to discreetly conceal your decision to abstain from drinking. You don't have to drink in college even though other people are—but sometimes it's just easier to pretend. Per Selick’s comment on how you can control what goes into your BORG, that also means you can forgo the alcohol entirely. Filling a BORG with liquids that aren't alcohol—and not sharing that detail with others—is a perfectly acceptable way to feel comfortable with your decision not to drink.
Ultimately, the BORG trend is probably more harmful than helpful
"I don't think we can say anything is a best practice for a new trend, particularly a trend named 'Black Out Rage Gallon (BORG).' Many young people are not using BORGs to stay safe, but are rather using them to get very drunk," says Selick. "People talking about BORGs online are recommending using half a gallon of water and half a gallon of vodka which sounds like a receipt for alcohol poisoning if consumed by most people in the course of one evening."
What we need is to have more conversations with young people about drinking and provide safer environments for people to experience alcohol, he says. "Students need to understand what makes drinking more harmful, how to understand the alcohol content in various common kinds of drinks, and we need to make sure college students are able to call for help without fear of consequences," says Selick. Some best practices for safer alcohol consumption are to slow down your drinking, take breaks between each drink, know the alcohol content of each drink, keep track of how many drinks you have had, stay hydrated, and make sure to eat food, he says.
While college is definitely a good time to experiment with boundaries, drinking responsibly is really best when it comes to your health and safety, as well as the health and safety of others.
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