Help for Hoarding and Addiction

Help for Hoarding and AddictionCompulsive hoarding is a behavior that involves collecting enormous amounts of material objects and storing them in an unorganized fashion throughout one’s living space. Hoarding is distinct from collecting in that collectors usually acquire items of a specific kind that have some intrinsic value, organize them and display them. Hoarders by contrast typically amass large amounts of useless, worthless and unrelated items and sometimes even garbage.

Hoarding results in a diminished quality of life and in many cases poses serious safety risks. News stories have described cases in which firemen or other emergency service personnel were unable to enter a home due to the amount of clutter. Hoarding often results in living spaces that are unlivable, beds that cannot be slept in, chairs that cannot be used for sitting and kitchens that cannot be used for cooking. Debris often accumulates from floor to ceiling with only narrow paths through which people may walk.

Diagnosing Compulsive Hoarding

Hoarding behavior has only gained attention in the last 10 to 15 years. It is poorly understood, and much work remains to be done. The American Psychiatric Association’s current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) does not contain a diagnosis of hoarding disorder, but there is discussion of including one in the DSM-5 with the following criteria:

  • Persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions regardless of their actual value
  • This difficulty is due to strong urges to save items and/or distress associated with discarding.
  • The symptoms result in the accumulation of a large number of possessions that fill up and clutter active living areas of the home or work place to the extent that their intended use is no longer possible. If all living areas become de-cluttered, it is only because of the interventions of third parties.
  • The symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (including maintaining a safe environment for self and others).
  • The hoarding symptoms are not due to a general medical condition.
  • The hoarding symptoms are not restricted to the symptoms of another mental disorder.

Hoarding and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Because hoarding has only recently begun to be studied, there is much debate as to whether hoarding is a distinct disorder or is linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Although many people who hoard exhibit other classic symptoms of OCD, according to the Mayo Clinic not everyone who hoards displays those symptoms. This suggests that in some cases hoarding is related to OCD, while in other cases it is a distinct phenomenon.

Hoarding has been linked to other psychological issues such as anxiety, depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), alcohol addiction, paranoia and schizophrenia.

Treating Addiction and Compulsive Hoarding

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and motivational interviewing techniques have been used successfully in addiction treatment and also show promise in treating hoarding behavior. One caveat, however, is that hoarders often do not recognize the problem. It is often third parties such as friends, relatives, or social workers who first identify the problem. Even in the face of intervention, hoarders often have difficulty recognizing that there is anything wrong; this can make treatment difficult, and in such cases motivational interviewing may be the most effective course of treatment.

If you would like help finding treatment for hoarding and any co-occurring disorders such as addiction, call our toll-free, 24 hour helpline today.

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