The Death of Max Gruver

A former Louisiana State University student was recently found guilty of negligent homicide in the death of an 18-year-old fellow student. Maxwell Gruver was pronounced dead on September 14, 2017, after an alcohol-related hazing ritual while pledging at a fraternity the day before. Four students were indicted in 2018 on charges stemming from the incident.

According to a report in the New York Post, Gruver and other pledges were “forced to chug 190-proof liquor during the Sept. 13, 2017 event, if they didn’t know the answers to questions about the fraternity or couldn’t recite the Greek alphabet. A toxicologist testified that Gruver was a ‘dead man walking’ after downing the booze. His blood-alcohol level was at 0.495%, more than six times the legal driving limit in Louisiana when he died.” 

As the Gruver case illustrates so tragically, juvenile challenges to drink large quantities of alcohol in a short period of time can result in death. Alcohol is a toxic substance. The dangers of college drinking games should by no means be underestimated, but it’s not easy for young people who want to “fit in” with their peers to avoid alcohol misuse. 

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), “alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States: 17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence along with several million more who engage in risky binge-drinking patterns that could lead to alcohol problems.” 

The theme of last year’s NCADD Alcohol Awareness Month was “Changing Attitudes: It’s not a rite of passage,” but the message that being able to tolerate large quantities of liquor does not make you “a man” all too often falls on deaf ears. A simple google search using the  parameters “drinking games movies,” for example, yields numerous results on how to “get drunk while enjoying your favorite film, because even cinema is better with a drink.”

The normalization of binge drinking in popular culture has had serious consequences. A 2018 study by the University of Michigan published showed that US deaths from cirrhosis and the end stages of liver damage rose by 65 percent from 1999 to 2016. Shockingly, adults ages 25–34 experienced the highest average annual increase in cirrhosis deaths with the rise driven entirely by alcohol-related liver disease. Alcoholism continues to be a much bigger problem than opioid addiction—albeit with far less media coverage. 

Alcohol use and misuse remain widespread at colleges and universities in the US, although many institutions of higher education have established programs to limit binge-drinking excesses on campus. 

Max Gruver’s parents pledged to use their son's story to promote an end to hazing and strengthen efforts to change the culture that enables that behavior. Alcohol misuse in college is not only dangerous when it is hazing related, however. Binge drinking on campus may become the gateway to a full-blown alcohol use disorder (AUD). 

Many young people currently enrolled at colleges suffer from anxiety disorders, depression, or have trouble coping with academic stress. Self-medicating underlying mental health issues with alcoholic beverages may all too easily escalate into a serious substance use problem. While hazing-related binge drinking may turn into an acute intoxication crisis, persistent misuse of alcohol often turns into a chronic drinking problem with a host of negative consequences. 

Recovery from a severe AUD requires a medically supervised detox and comprehensive addiction treatment to address all the patient’s needs. The Farley Center at Williamsburg Place in Virginia offers superior addiction treatment services to a variety of patients. Farley has general medical and psychiatric capabilities. The multidisciplinary team includes an addiction medicine physician, an addiction psychiatrist, psychologists, licensed clinicians, and nurses to give patients the best possible start into a successful recovery from addiction.