How safe is the blackout rage gallon drinking trend?


This discussion was recorded on April 6, 2023. This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Robert D. Glatter, MD: Welcome. I’m Dr. Robert Glatter, medical adviser for Medscape Emergency Medicine. Joining us today is Dr. Lewis Nelson, professor and chair of emergency medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and a certified medical toxicologist.

Today, we will be discussing an important and disturbing Gen Z trend circulating on social media, known as blackout rage gallon, or BORG.

Welcome, Lewis.

Lewis S. Nelson, MD: Thanks for having me.

Dr. Glatter: Thanks so much for joining us. This trend that’s been circulating on social media is really disturbing. It has elements that focus on binge drinking: Talking about taking a jug; emptying half of it out; and putting one fifth of vodka and some electrolytes, caffeine, or other things too is just incredibly disturbing. Teens and parents are looking at this. I’ll let you jump into the discussion.

Dr. Nelson: You’re totally right, it is disturbing. Binge drinking is a huge problem in this country in general. It’s a particular problem with young people – teenagers and young adults. I don’t think people appreciate the dangers associated with binge drinking, such as the amount of alcohol they consume and some of the unintended consequences of doing that.

To frame things quickly, we think there are probably around six people a day in the United States who die of alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning basically is binge drinking to such an extent that you die of the alcohol itself. You’re not dying of a car crash or doing something that injures you. You’re dying of the alcohol. You’re drinking so much that your breathing slows, it stops, you have heart rhythm disturbances, and so on. It totals about 2,200 people a year in the United States.

Dr. Glatter: That’s alarming. For this trend, their argument is that half of the gallon is water. Therefore, I’m fine. I can drink it over 8-12 hours and it’s not an issue. How would you respond to that?

Dr. Nelson: Well, alcohol is alcohol. It’s all about how much you take in over what time period. I guess, in concept, it could be safer if you do it right. That’s not the way it’s been, so to speak, marketed on the various social media platforms. It’s meant to be a way to protect yourself from having your drink spiked or eating or ingesting contaminants from other people’s mouths when you share glasses or dip cups into communal pots like jungle juice or something.

Clearly, if you’re going to drink a large amount of alcohol over a short or long period of time, you do run the risk of having significant consequences, including bad decision-making if you’re just a little drunk all the way down to that of the complications you described about alcohol poisoning.

Dr. Glatter: There has been a comment made that this could be a form of harm reduction. The point of harm reduction is that we run trials, we validate it, and we test it. This, certainly in my mind, is no form of true harm reduction. I think you would agree.

Dr. Nelson: Many things that are marketed as harm reduction aren’t. There could be some aspects of this that could be considered harm reduction. You may believe – and there’s no reason not to – that protecting your drink is a good idea. If you’re at a bar and you leave your glass open and somebody put something in it, you can be drugged. Drug-facilitated sexual assault, for example, is a big issue. That means you have to leave your glass unattended. If you tend to your glass, it’s probably fine. One of the ways of harm reduction they mention is that by having a cap and having this bottle with you at all times, that can’t happen.


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