Students May Think BORG Drinking Is Safe. It’s Not
In advance of Marathon Monday, what to know about “blackout rage gallons” and how to really drink safely, if you plan on it
Almost 50 students sickened and rushed to the hospital: that emergency befell a pre-St. Patrick’s Day bash at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The students had downed so-called BORGs (an acronym for “blackout rage gallons”), a fad that’s struck colleges and universities, including Boston University, which some students believe is a safer way to drink alcohol.
A BORG drink mixes hard liquor with water and flavorings, such as caffeine or electrolytes, in a gallon jug. BU Student Health Services (SHS) posted an Instagram primer explaining what BORGs are—and why they are anything but risk-free imbibing.
“We do know that students are using BORGs at BU. I’ve heard this in conversations around safer drinking with students,” says Sarah Voorhees, assistant director of substance use, recovery, and sexual well-being at SHS and the author of the primer. Ahead of Marathon Monday, traditionally a weekend when alcohol use rises sharply, she spoke with BU Today about why some students have gravitated to this drinking technique and why it isn’t safe.
with Sarah Voorhees
BU Today: What is the prevalence of BORG drinking at BU?
Voorhees: We don’t have any data on the prevalence, but from my conversations with students, [they] have shared that people make BORGs typically on days in which people might be drinking throughout the day, such as St. Patrick’s Day weekend or Marathon Monday. Which is one of the reasons that Student Health [Services] thought it was important to share information about BORGs.
BU Today: How many drinking incidents involving Terriers did you deal with over St. Patrick’s Day, and were there any BORG incidents?
Voorhees: I believe there were four incidents where students were transported to the hospital on St. Patrick’s Day. This isn’t out of line with the transports on a non-holiday weekend. To our knowledge, none of them involved BORG use specifically.
When I think about that incident at UMass, what I’m thinking about is students’ safer drinking and still wanting folks to reach out in case of an alcohol emergency, to feel comfortable doing so. I want to highlight BU’s Good Samaritan policy: if a BU student
“seeks help for themselves or others who’ve used alcohol or drugs, neither student will receive a sanction for alcohol or drug use, as long as they complete an educational or counseling program on campus.”
BU students can reach out, whether it’s related to BORG usage or other drinking. Signs include unconsciousness or being passed out; vomiting—particularly frequent vomiting; someone being disoriented, not knowing the time, location, their address; irregular breathing—sometimes slower breathing or taking pauses between breaths; changes in skin tone or feel—they’re a little paler or have bluish lips or are clammy or cool to the touch. Every one of these signs could mean an alcohol emergency.
If you’re on campus, call BUPD immediately [617-353-2121]; if off campus, call 911. The takeaway from UMass is that we do want students to reach out if they’re worried about someone.
A lot of recipes call for 17 shots of liquor in a BORG. Even if consumed over multiple hours, this is still an amount that can cause an alcohol emergency.
BU Today: Why have BORGs become a fad on college campuses, and what are the dangers?
There’s a misconception that BORGs might be a safer way to drink or that they’re hydrating. Because BORGs contain water and, oftentimes, electrolytes, there’s this perception that that offsets the alcohol. We know that a lot of recipes call for 17 shots of liquor in a BORG. Even if consumed over multiple hours, this is still an amount that can cause an alcohol emergency. Water and electrolytes do not offset the very real impact of the amount of alcohol.
Folks might also be adding caffeinated beverages or caffeine to a BORG. Caffeine has the effect of masking the feelings of intoxication and other effects of alcohol. So, it can make it more likely that someone will drink more than they realized or even planned.
We do not recommend drinking a BORG. If someone is still going to make a BORG, there are strategies to make it a safer experience—again, not recommended. Number one is using less alcohol than it calls for. You don’t have to include any alcohol in a BORG—no one will know—and we recommend no more than one shot, which is 1.5 ounces of liquor, per hour that you anticipate drinking. So, if you anticipate drinking this BORG over five hours, no more than five shots should be added. The second [tip] would be to skip the caffeine. Don’t include other drinks or additives that have caffeine.
Next would be, drink it slowly. Your blood alcohol concentration is about how much alcohol you’re drinking, over what amount of time. We want to extend the amount of time that you’re drinking the BORG over. Lastly, check in with yourself and others, making sure that other people are safe, and if you notice signs of an emergency, you reach out for help immediately.
BU Today: Students can over-drink on Marathon Monday. Will BU offer a safe Marathon viewing party site this year?
Yes. Many student organizations and departments are collaborating on BU Does the Marathon, a Marathon watch party at the corner of Beacon Street and Park Drive from 11:30 am till 1:30 pm. We’ll have swag giveaways, noise makers, free food, the BU Pep Band. Rhett will be there. We want students to come out and enjoy the amazing spirit of the day. We encourage folks to not bring alcohol to the site, because it’s in public, there will be families and children there.
Last year was the first year that we did this kind of event at this location, and it was really successful.