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28 ambulances called at UMass Amherst due to 'borg' drinking trend. What is it?

University of Massachusetts warned people of the uses the popular drinking trend.
/ Source: TODAY

Ahead of St. Patrick's day weekend, officials at a Massachusetts university are discouraging students from participating in the latest college drinking trend known as a borg.

The Boston University warning comes 10 days after 28 calls for ambulances were made from off-campus parties at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, due to alcohol intoxication from borgs — plastic gallon jugs usually prepared by the drinker that contain hard alcohol, water, caffeine and/or electrolytes.

The town of Amherst and UMass Amherst officials reported that ambulance support “provided prompt and essential service” in response to “a significant number of alcohol intoxication cases” related to off-campus student gatherings on March 4, according to a press release from the university.

UMass Amherst noted that the Amherst Fire Department handled requests for 28 ambulance transports with a task force for additional resources. None of the cases were life-threatening.

Two arrests for underage possession of alcohol were made, Amherst Police and UMass Police reported.

University officials said that this is the first time they have "observed notable use of borgs." They planned to assess the situation and consider steps to "improve alcohol education and intervention, and communicate with students and families."

Taking a similar stance, the Boston University health alert stated: "We don't recommend drinking a BORG."

What is a borg?

A borg, short for “blackout rage gallon,” usually contains a mix of hard alcohol, water and flavorings with electrolytes or caffeine carried in a plastic gallon container. They can contain up to 17 shots, according to Boston University health officials.

NBC News previously reported that the most common version of a borg is half water, half vodka, a caffeinated flavor enhancer and electrolytes in an effort to minimize a hangover.

The drink has become popular on college campuses across the country. The hashtag #borg has garnered more than 99 million views on the social media app. One of the earliest TikTok videos about the borg was made in March 2020. 

While borgs could be compared to communal “jungle juice” that previously dominated college parties, borgs became popular amid the COVID-19 pandemic due to social distancing measures. Some harm reduction advocates have said borgs mitigate some of the risk of college alcohol culture, since drinkers can control what's in their borgs and can keep close by at all times, according to NBC News.

“When it comes to substance use prevention, harm reduction recognizes that people are going to make their own decisions when it comes to alcohol and other drugs,” Erin Monroe, a creator who is credentialed in substance use prevention in New York, previously told NBC News. “But there are strategies we can use to reduce some of the risk.”

Borgs come with health risks

Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor, a medical toxicology physician at the National Capital Poison Center, tells “The influencers are marketing (borgs) as being a safer way to drink alcohol, and yes, it may be true that it allows you to personalize your drink and keep it close to you."

But she stresses that 17 shots of alcohol is not safe to consume, even over the course of one day. “Binge drinking for women is four or more drinks at a time and for men five or more drinks at a time so the borg is equal to binge drinking my opinion,” she adds.

And she has concerns about mixing caffeine and alcohol together. Students may think it the caffeine "counteracts" the effects of the alcohol, she says, but “this is very dangerous. ... You can get alcohol and caffeine poisoning, which can be life-threatening."

Boston University health officials also pointed that the size and shape of a borg can make it hard to keep track of how much you've consumed, which can lead to over-drinking, as can mixing alcohol and caffeine because it can reduce the feeling of intoxication.

The safest way to drink a borg, per Boston University health officials, is not to. But for students who choose to, it's best to:

  • Rather than filling the container halfway with hard liquor, measure out one shot per hour for how long you plant to drink.
  • Or skip the alcohol altogether.
  • Drink it slowly, keeping in mind it can take up to 30 minutes to feel the effect of one shot.
  • Leave out anything with caffeine.
  • Be aware of how you're feeling, take breaks and don't leave your drink unattended.

If you observe someone in an alcohol emergency, call 911.

Caroline Kee contributed reporting.