Understanding Hoarding Disorder

The Mayo Clinic defines hoarding as a compulsive habit that sees the victim hold on to belongings that should be discarded. Although this definition is accurate, it can be misleading. Treating hoarding disorder is not as simple as disposing of the items being needlessly held onto. Hoarding is usually a symptom of a more serious condition caused by anxiety, for example, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Hoarding disorder should not be confused with a shopping addiction. The former is a result of anxiety at the thought of losing one’s possessions. Regardless of the monetary value of hoarded items, victims pile them up in their homes and any other place they may find space. Typically, all surfaces in a hoarder’s home are occupied with random stuff. The condition can get so extreme that the victims rent more space just to hold on to more possessions.

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What Causes Hoarding?

According to recent statistics, 2-5% of adults suffer from this condition. In most cases, the signs of hoarding show in childhood and become worse with age. Hoarding is becoming more prevalent; most people know someone who struggles to let go of possessions. It is why hoarding was included as a condition rather than a symptom in the Manual of Mental Disorders.

There is no established cause for the disorder. Research has shown that it is linked to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. It is also apparent in individuals going through social isolation, stress, and addiction. While undergoing major life changes, the associated stress can cause an increase in hoarding behavior.

High-functioning individuals who do not have psychological disorders are less likely to become hoarders. However, those who have a history of mental illnesses are vulnerable. As such, it can be triggered by stressful events such as divorce, loss of a loved one, and abuse. Traumatic events that cause psychological stress can trigger hoarding episodes.

When Does Hoarding Become a Problem?

Typically, people hold on to more mementos and keepsakes than they should; this is a mild case of hoarding that is often not a cause for alarm. Cases differ in severity, but one may need help if their life and health are affected by the disorder. If the clutter becomes too much for the person to go about their daily activity – it is a severe problem.

People with this disorder often have antisocial behavior; they avoid social interaction at all costs. This is not the only negative effect of hoarding. Having a house filled with all sorts of items causes:

  • Diseases caused by poor sanitation;
  • Respiratory issues caused by dust and allergens;
  • Cardiac problems;
  • Mold;
  • Ammonia from feces and urine;
  • Accidents due to clutter;
  • Pest infestation;
  • House fires;
  • Structural damage due to the weight of the hoarded items.

Signs That Your Loved One Is Hoarding

The development of this condition is gradual. It may start with keeping a few treasured items and become worse over time. Because the items one choose to keep is often a private matter, it is hard to tell when a loved one is hoarding. For people to pay attention to the behavior, it is often at an extreme stage.

Some of the symptoms of this disorder include:

  • Acquiring unnecessary items;
  • Struggling to let go of items they no longer have use for;
  • Getting upset when people suggest giving away some items;
  • Having a cluttered house that is unusable;
  • Expressing strong beliefs that all their belongings will be useful in the future;
  • Only feeling comfortable when surrounded by their possessions;
  • Worrying about wastage.

Hoarding Vs. Collecting

Collectors seek, bring, organize, catalog, and save various items that are of interest to them. Unlike hoarders, they only acquire items that are necessary to create a collection. Even when their rooms are full of items, they are not cluttered. In addition, collecting is a hobby that is done in moderation without creating health risks to the individual.

How Is Hoarding Treated?

Treating this condition is not easy. Because many people do not understand it, they try to force hoarders to let go of their possessions. Although it might work temporarily, this is not a long term strategy. Most hoarders secretly fall back to old habits, and it is just a matter of time before their loved ones notice. Using force or persuasion to deal with this disorder worsens it by elevating anxiety levels and triggering more episodes.

There are several treatment options for hoarders. A combination of medicine and counseling is essential for a full recovery. Ultimately, cognitive-behavioral therapy plays a key role in treating the triggers of hoarding. Therefore, it is one of the most commonly used courses of treatment.

Because hoarders are anxious people, treatment can take a lot of time. To change their habits and help them develop healthy coping mechanisms, therapists take their time. Gradual training is the best way to deal with such compulsive behavior.

Treating a hoarder is complicated because he or she doesn’t think of the behavior as problematic. So, therapists must follow a structured treatment program that includes:

  1. Earning the patient’s trust;
  2. Helping the patient believe how harmful his or her behavior is;
  3. Identifying the triggers;
  4. Working on a program that modifies their reaction to triggers.

Following a structured program that addresses hoarding gradually prevents relapse. Once the patient is ready to get rid of their unnecessary possessions, they must be able to cope.

Do Hoarders Need Therapy?

Because hoarders do not believe that their behavior is problematic, simple solutions are counterproductive. Loved ones may resort to cleaning out their houses or pressuring them to get rid of some items. It results in more anxiety for the hoarder. Despite getting rid of their possessions, they continue battling the underlying mental health issue.

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When people discover that someone they know is a hoarder, it is best to seek professional help. Counselors who have experience in treating hoarders are the best option. They look past the visible symptoms to discover the underlying reasons for the disorder. With an appropriate treatment plan, the underlying condition can be mitigated. It is important to note that simply doing away with the clutter is not enough to treat hoarding.

Who Is An Ideal Hoarding Therapist?

The best therapist for a hoarder is someone who has experience in treating the disorder. However, finding one who fits that profile is not easy because the disorder is relatively new. Until recently, it was classified as a symptom instead of a disorder. So, the next best alternative is a therapist who treats OCD and anxiety disorders. To find a suitable counselor, search our website.

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