At a time when the topics of sophisticated AI chatbots and biohacking are finding their way into everyday conversations, the word “borg” could easily refer to anything from the future of customer service cyborg technology to the name of a sinister new tech start-up.
But on TikTok and university campuses, it’s the name of a new drinking trend. Shorthand for “blackout rage gallon,” it’s being touted by Gen Z students as a way to get drunk easily, cheaply and with seemingly less risk of a hangover the next day. But experts warn the risks of jumping on the trend aren’t worth the hype.
According to a March 2020 TikTok video by user @disneyprincessofdeath that has been viewed more than 2.5 million times, the basic recipe for a borg goes like this. Pour out or drink half of the contents of a gallon jug of water. Refill the jug with a fifth of liquor – about 25.4 oz or 750 ml – and add a flavored drink enhancer with electrolytes.
“Add a whole Mio Energy. Give it a good little shake, and there you have it. Get drunk while staying hydrated for a low price,” captions for the video read.
Some of the top comments on the video test the potency of the drink.
“This caused me to absolutely black out so it is in fact effective,” one user wrote.
“Directions unclear: I drank the whole thing myself and woke up in a different country with a new identity,” another joked.
Other videos have followed, demonstrating how popular the drink has become at campus parties as the trend has picked up steam over the past year. In all, the hashtag #borg has amassed more than 74 million views on TikTok.
Advocates for the borg have branded it as a way for partygoers to keep their drinks by their side, sealed and free from contamination – like a safer, more hygienic alternative to communal drinks mixed in a tub or bin.
In a TikTok video with more than 4.3 million views, user @erin.monroe_ argued that, when paired with safe drinking strategies such as pacing drinks and arranging a safe way home, the borg could be considered a harm reduction tool.
“This is actually really solid harm prevention,” she said in the video, noting that she is credentialed in substance use prevention in New York state. “They’re deciding what they’re drinking, they’re keeping it in a closed container and they’re bringing it with them everywhere. They’re not dipping their cup into some mystery bucket that anybody could have put anything into.”
‘DANGEROUS AND EXCESSIVE’
Outside of TikTok, however, emergency medicine and substance use experts warn the trend is significantly more dangerous than beneficial.
“This is hardly harm reduction,” Mark Asbridge, professor of community health and epidemiology at Dalhousie University’s Emergency Medicine Center for Clinical Research, told CTVNews.ca in an email on Monday.
The Canadian Center on Substance Abuse and Addiction recently updated its alcohol consumption guidelines to recommend no more than two drinks per week in order to minimize the health risks associated with drinking. The guidelines define a drink as one 12-oz. (341 ml) bottle of five per cent alcohol beer or cider, one 5-oz. (142 ml) glass of 12 per cent alcohol wine or one 1.5-oz. (43 ml) shot glass of 40 per cent alcohol spirits.
The new guidelines warn that as few as three to six drinks per week can increase the risk of developing certain cancers. Their state of consuming more than seven drinks per week increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, with the danger increasing with each additional drink.
The standard recipe for a borg involves approximately 25.4 oz (750 ml) of liquor, a volume Asbridge says is “extremely dangerous” to consume, regardless of how it’s prepared. He said some of the direct impacts of drinking a borg could include alcohol poisoning, loss of consciousness and “associated sickness.” Indirect effects, he said, could include falls, injuries, interpersonal violence, inappropriate social exchanges, impaired driving, and death.
“Mixing it with a caffeinated energy drink only makes it worse,” Asbridge wrote. “Alcohol is a depressant and introducing a stimulant is going to lead to perceptions among the drinkers that they are less impaired than they really are, which may contribute to additional drinking or dangerous activities.”
As for arguments that the borg can act as a harm reduction tool, Asbridge said he doesn’t believe there is anything “remotely healthy” about the trend, and that anyone who cites associated health benefits is grasping at straws.
“More hygienic at the cost of ending up in the emergency department doesn’t seem like much of a trade-off,” he said. “There are no ways in which consuming 16-plus ounces (473-plus ml) of alcohol in a single sitting is ever beneficial.”
Adam Sherk, a scientist at the University of Victoria’s Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, also describes the trend as “dangerous and excessive.”
“Let’s just say that the only thing that I like about a borg is the Star Trek nomenclature,” he wrote in an email to CTVNews.ca on Friday, referencing the hostile alien group in Star Trek linked together by a hive mind called “the Collective.”
“Even spread across a whole day, this is still a very, very high dose of alcohol. Nearly anyone would surely be extremely intoxicated and experience a very high increased risk of alcohol poisoning, alcohol-caused injuries and alcohol-caused violence.”
Using the standard recipe for a borg, Sherk said it was “scientifically impossible” that the drink could be considered a harm reduction tool. However, he said there are ways to enjoy the practical benefits of mixing a pre-determined volume of alcohol into a sealable container, without risking your health.
“If we use a gallon of water and only put, say two or three or four drinks in it, then it could be a reasonable technique,” he said.
In other words, take the “drill” out of the borg.