Despite the alleged medical misadventure and subsequent ignominy of University of Tennessee student and Pi Kappa Alpha brother Alexander P. Broughton—who, according to police reports, suffered severe alcohol poisoning after a night of chugging cheap wine through a rubber tube stuck in his anus on Sept. 21, which he adamantly denies—the practice of rectal intake is actually a time-honored tradition, with venerable cultural antecedents.
Well, no, not really.
The truth is that so-called “butt-chugging,” as this exercise in rectal abuse and accelerated alcoholism is now commonly known, is a half-witted and potentially medically catastrophic stunt that bears more than a faint whiff of sexual assault. Still, burning questions must be answered, so consider this your Most Complete Butt-Chugging Primer Yet.
The earliest popular reference to butt-chugging is in the 2006 movie Jackass Number Two, where professional idiot Steve-O performs the stunt. But even Steve-O—a longtime stuntman, who, among other things, has stapled his scrotum to his leg for a sketch and who allowed himself to be launched in the air like a low-altitude rocket in a port-a-john full of excrement for Jackass 3D—only chugged a single beer. (Johnny Knoxville quote: “Rectal bleeding—another first for Jackass.”)
The online Urban Dictionary tells us that there are two different delivery systems used for butt-chugging, although they’re both variations on the same theme—a length of tubing with a funnel or some such at the end. One variant is called a beer bong; the other is called a “Schlessinger,” apparently named after radio advice dominatrix Laura Schlessinger, whose name has doubtless been associated with any number of other less-than-public orifices and distasteful bodily functions, in various contexts.
So we know something about the inglorious history of butt-chugging, but how does it work?
According to local internal medicine specialist “Dr. John”—who surprisingly wants to remain anonymous—after the alcohol enters the rectum, it is absorbed directly into the distal, or lower portion of the small intestine, and into the bloodstream. This is the same part of the intestine where nutrients from our diet, as well as water and electrolytes, are absorbed into the blood.
“There’s no ‘first pass’ through the liver before the alcohol gets into the blood,” Dr. John explains. “The liver has enzymes that break down alcohol—some people have more of those enzymes than others—and the liver processes it and converts it to other substances.”
With no “first pass” through the liver, “you get higher, quicker,” Dr. John says. As the blood continues to circulate, the alcohol will eventually reach the liver, with some mitigating effect, but by then it’s usually too little and too late.
What percentage of the alcohol hits the bloodstream through the more direct rout of butt-chugging is difficult to say. “You’d need a biochemist to actually calculate the percentage,” Dr. John says.
But the prospects are genuinely frightening; Dr. John says a lethal blood-alcohol count is dependent on the individual. But as a former ER doctor who routinely saw alcohol poisonings, “I’d get worried at .25, .30. I never saw a .40.” (Broughton’s level was reportedly close to .45.)
There are a few “advantages” to butt-chugging, Dr. John says. Because of the absorption method, you don’t reek of alcohol, at least not for a while. You don’t vomit (you skip that step, advancing directly to the “passing out” stage). And it’s easier on your liver, a nice benefit, we suppose, if you don’t die in the meantime.
Is butt-chugging trending upward? We called the University of Tennessee Medical Center and asked if they’d seen other such cases in the past; and if so, if the instances had been on the rise. It took them three or four days to say they didn’t know, or couldn’t tell us, or didn’t remember, or didn’t really have time to try to remember. Given the flap over this one—indicating that such incidents are well-marked and well-remembered—we’re going to guess, probably not.
Or maybe? According to Dr. John, a former Greek himself during his college years, one of his closest friends is also a (former) Pi Kappa Alpha, or Pike. “For years I’ve been trying to get him to tell me the secret Pike handshake, and he just won’t do it,” Dr. John says. “Then when this stuff happened with the rectal chugging, I called him and I asked, what the hell is going on? He said, oh, that? That’s nothing. It’s just part of the secret handshake.”