Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Substance Abuse, Waiting for the Worst, and the Death of Andrew Koppel

Andrew Koppel, 40, was found dead early this morning.  He apparently had gone on an at least day-long drinking binge, bar hopping throughout New York City.  He finally wound up, with his drinking buddy, at the apartment of one of the buddy's friends.  He went to sleep it off, and never woke up.  Among others, he leaves his girlfriend, a child, and his famous father, newsman Ted Koppel.  The cause of death has not been determined.  He had a history of alcohol abuse.

This story is in the news because Andrew Koppel's father is famous.  But deaths like this one are, unfortunately, not at all unheard of.  People who live with or love alcoholics and other substance abusers live with the knowledge that, if they don't successfully stay away from their substance of choice, someday it may very well kill the people they love.  Overdose -- in this case, apparently alcohol poisoning -- is only one of a seemingly endless number of ways that people can die from substance abuse.  Motor vehicle accidents, falling or jumping from tall buildings, or picking a fight with the wrong person are a few of the others.

It's likely that the phone call the Koppel family got this morning was shocking.  It's also likely, if stories about Andrew's drinking are true, that they knew such a phone call was a possibility.  At the same time, no one can ever really be prepared for a phone call like that.  Every family hopes that the addict they love will straighten out or sober up before they hit bottom, and the phone call informs them that their hopes are over.

This type of death brings with it a difficult mishmash of themes for those left behind.  Of course they are sad.  They are also angry, because the person who died "did this to themselves."  Unlike a suicide, however, the person didn't do it to themselves on purpose, or at least not as clearly on purpose as if they had completed a suicide.  Those left behind are mad that they didn't stop in time and mad that they couldn't.  They feel guilty because they couldn't save them, and blame others -- the person's friends or other people in the family -- because they didn't.  The drinking or drugs often go hand in hand with mental illness or other complicating factors, and it's hard to know what or who to blame for the result.  In short, it's a mess.

I don't know what kind of relationship Ted Koppel had with his son.  Maybe they were estranged, maybe they were close.  Frankly, it's none of our business.  No father holds his baby and imagines that someday he will bury his son.  No father should have to, no matter how much he may have prepared for the possibility.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at www.SchoolCrisisConsultant.com
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