Does TikTok's BORG Trend Really Promote Harm-Reduction—Or Is It Just Binge Drinking?

  • BORGs—"blackout rage gallons"—are a new TikTok drinking trend, popular among college-aged students.
  • Some people have hailed BORGs as a harm-reduction strategy for drinking; others say it's simply binge drinking.
  • Although BORGs allow college students to have control over their alcoholic beverages, the amount of alcohol BORGs can contain is a real concern.
group of college students, one looking at social media on phone

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College-aged students across the country have a new drink of choice, according to TikTok: It’s called the BORG—and though some have hailed it as harm-reduction strategy, others say it’s simply binge drinking reimagined.

BORG stands for “blackout rage gallon,” and the hashtag (#BORG) has more than 73 million views on TikTok for videos primarily focused on recipes.

Aside from different taste preferences, a BORG recipe usually follows a specific format: A gallon of water with about half dumped out, vodka (some people use as much as a fifth, which equals about 16 shots), a packet of electrolytes, and some flavoring. Standard convention says you also have to name the BORG.

Though the concept of BORGs may be rooted in harm-reduced drinking, the sheer amount of alcohol being used in some of these gallons has experts concerned—particularly as binge-drinking is prevalent in the United States (about 25% of people who binge drink do so at least once a week). Here’s what to know.

What Is Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking is the most common form of excessive alcohol use in the U.S., and is defined as consuming five or more drinks on one occasion for men, or four or more drinks for women.

Do BORGs Promote Harm-Reduced Drinking?

It’s important to acknowledge that harm-reduced drinking doesn’t necessarily mean abstaining from alcohol completely. Rather, it’s a way to reduce the odds that someone will be harmed or injured from alcohol use. (However, for those who have or are at risk of alcohol use disorder, abstinence is the best approach.)

“[Harm reduction] acknowledges that people will drink, and doesn’t impose an abstinence-only philosophy on [most] people,” Luke Peterson, DO, associate medical director at Sierra Tucson, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, told Health. “When it comes to alcohol, harm reduction includes helping people to drink safer amounts in safer ways and reducing the harmful societal effects of others drinking, such as reducing people driving intoxicated.”

On TikTok, one major selling point of BORGs, particularly among those who identify as women, is that the drink is in a personal container (a gallon jug) with a cap. This lowers the risk that someone will slip something harmful inside.

Because the drink is also based on personal preference, making and drinking your own BORG means you know exactly what your consuming—which is not always the case at college parties. “You’re not drinking out of a punchbowl that you don’t know what’s in it,” said Jessica Kruger, PhD, clinical associate professor of Community Health and Health Behavior at the University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions.

However, other—possibly preferred—harm-reduction strategies for drinking among college students include educating college students on how many of their peers actually binge drink, banning the sale of alcohol at sports events, increasing the price and taxes on alcohol, and providing safe rides for students who drink too much and drive, Peterson said.

Health Risks Associated With BORGs

Despite any harm-reduction strategies for alcohol, consuming any at all “naturally imparts some level of harm, because there is no safe level of alcohol consumption,” said Lawrence Weinstein, MD, chief medical officer at American Addiction Centers. That’s the World Health Organizations’s stance too, according to a January statement published in The Lancet.

Done as suggested on TikTok, a BORG can contain up to 16 shots of vodka—a dangerous and potentially deadly amount of alcohol for any person. Even a much lower shot count (say, four or five shots per BORG) is considered binge drinking, which comes with a host of health risks.

Health Problems Linked to Binge Drinking

  • Unintentional injuries (motor vehicle accidents, falls, alcohol poisoning).
  • Violence (homicide, suicide, sexual assault)
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Poor pregnancy outcomes or unintended pregnancy
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders
  • Sudden infant death syndrome
  • Chronic diseases (hypertension, stroke, heart disease, liver disease)
  • Cancer (breast, liver, colon, rectum, mouth, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus)
  • Memory and learning problems

"This all but encourages binge drinking, which is already a significant problem among college-aged students,” Dr. Weinstein told Health. He said it’s “understandable” why some people may think that carrying around a gallon container of water and vodka would be a safer alternative “but in reality, that’s water in addition to [as many as] 16 shots, which is a great deal of alcohol to consume.”

Having multiple shots in one easy-to-drink container also makes binge drinking easier to do in a shorter amount of time, According to Dr. Weinstein, any possible harm-reduction potential a BORG might have are overshadowed “by the fact that a fifth of vodka [could be] consumed in a day.”

Social media platforms have changed not only how far these harmful drinking trends spread, but the speed at which they spread. “TikTok and social media have certainly changed how information is spread, and how rapidly it spreads,” Dr. Peterson said. “There are multiple examples of people using drugs, alcohol, and medications on social media in risky ways which rapidly spread to the masses, influencing young children and young adults.”

Though the BORG trend may not be leaving the college-aged crowd anytime soon—and while it may not be a preferred harm-reduction strategy for alcohol intake—there are ways to do it safely, which includes using significantly less alcohol than many TikTok videos call for, and knowing your own limits and how to safely pace your alcohol intake.

“If you put two shots of vodka in a gallon of water, that’s not binge drinking,” Kruger said. “But if you put half a gallon of vodka and drink this within two hours, it definitely is binge drinking.”

It’s wise not to take the BORG trend at face value, too—regarding both its name and its harm-reduction claims, Kruger added. Though “blackout” is in the name, that shouldn’t be the goal of this or any other drink.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Binge Drinking.

  2. World Health Organization. No level of alcohol consumption is safe for our health.

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