ARC Blog

When It’s Not Just Hoarding

Treating Two Disorders

Though a previously misunderstood condition, hoarding disorder is now a medically recognized mental health disorder and one which can be greatly affected by addiction. In fact, people with mental health disorders like hoarding disorder often struggle with substance abuse, addiction, and dependence issues, though not all will receive treatment for these issues.

Fortunately, research from the past few decades has surfaced which has revealed much of what is known about mental health disorders, how to treat them, and how to treat two disorders at once.

What Is Hoarding Disorder?

Hoarding disorder is a mental health condition in which the person has an obsession(s) and/or compulsion(s) with hoarding items. This disorder used to be grouped in with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, but now that hoarding disorder is more fully understood, the condition stands alone.

How Does a Hoarding Disorder Start?

As with any mental disorder, it may be difficult to pinpoint where the disorder begins and what contributes to the development of it. What is known is that people with hoarding disorder have a difficult time parting with personal possessions, especially if they believe them to be valuable.

Some reasons people may begin hoarding include:

  • Believing the items are unique, valuable, or will be needed in the future.
  • Keeping items due to personal, emotional attachment—items may represent a relationship with a person or a significant time in a person’s life.
  • Being surrounded by personal items makes the person feel safe or secure.
  • Believing getting rid of items will be wasteful.

Unfortunately, hoarding may not only manifest in collecting and keeping items but in other dangerous collections, such as pets or animals.

What Are the Symptoms of a Hoarding Disorder?

A person who struggles with hoarding disorder likely already lives in conditions which can make daily living difficult. Cramped quarters, clutter that fills many areas throughout the home like countertops, closets, beds, and floors, and clutter and collections expanding to outdoor areas like the garage and yard may all signal a person is hoarding.

Even so, if you are close to a loved one, or they have had habits similar to these their entire lives, knowing when they have a problem and when to seek help can be tough.

Signs and symptoms of hoarding disorder may include:

  • Gathering, collecting, and keeping items which are not needed.
  • Having no space for new items due to overcrowding of current items.
  • Experiencing trouble discarding or parting with items, regardless of value.
  • Compiling items in every area of living space until there is little or no walking room.
  • A person displays a number of behavioral tendencies, which can include: avoidance, indecisiveness, perfectionism, procrastination, and trouble planning and organizing.

After a person has developed hoarding disorder, it may be extremely difficult to overcome, especially without help. Dealing with anxiety linked to lack of space, perceived frustration from others, and pressure to get rid of possessions may lead a person with hoarding disorder to attempt to self-medicate in the form of substance abuse.

How Are Hoarding Disorder and Addiction Linked?

Having both a mental health disorder and an addiction, a condition also known as co-occurring disorders or dual diagnosis is increasingly common. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports 7.9 million American residents to struggle with a dual diagnosis.

Because of the alarmingly high rates of co-occurring disorders, it’s not uncommon for addiction to result from a mental disorder. For example, a person with hoarding disorder may feel fearful, anxious, or even depressed from symptoms of the disorder. In response, the person may drink alcohol or seek prescription or illicit drugs in an attempt to dull or alleviate these feelings.

With time, use turns to abuse and the problem becomes a habit which eventually leads to addiction. Once addiction has formed, it may be difficult to stop without help.

Further, symptoms of one disorder can aggravate or cause symptoms of the other. A person with a hoarding disorder may begin drinking to alleviate symptoms of the mental disorder, they may continue to hoard when he or she develops anxiety about their drinking problem, and so on. The cycle can be endless if the person never seeks proper help.

Treatment For Hoarding Disorder and Addiction

Though having hoarding disorder and addiction can make a person feel like there’s no way out, treatment is available and can be extremely effective. Inpatient treatment is often recommended for persons with co-occurring disorders to allow them access to the highest level of care during detoxification, treatment, and resources for aftercare.

The best dual diagnosis programs will take on a comprehensive approach, integrating different therapies, counseling, medication-assisted treatment when needed, and employing the best experts in addiction and mental health treatment available.

Seeking treatment can be a frightening prospect for a person with hoarding disorder, but treatment specialists can make this process far more manageable and effective. People who get into and remain in treatment enjoy a greater opportunity for quitting the use of drugs and alcohol, managing overall health, and learning to live a more balanced life long-term.

Anxiety and Depression Association of America — Hoarding: The Basics
Mayo Clinic — Hoarding disorder
National Alliance on Mental Illness — Dual Diagnosis
Psychology Today — Is Hoarding an Addiction or Purely a Compulsive Behavior?

Whitney Wellman is a content writer and editor for Addiction Campuses, a behavioral health care system that specializes in individualized, evidence-based treatment for drug and alcohol addictions.

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