Hoarding Disorder

Marcelina Hardy, MSEd, BCC
Some hoarders collect old bottles

A hoarding disorder is an illness in which someone collects items uncontrollably without being able to throw anything away. It creates an unsanitary, dangerous and unhealthy living environment.

Hoarding Disorder: A Form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

The DSM-IV doesn't list hoarding disorder as a mental illness. Instead, it's a result of another type of mental health disorder - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Someone who has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), has an uncontrollable urge to do things that may be unnecessary due to fear and anxiety. Hoarding items is one of the things people with this disorder do.

Why It's a Disorder

If you collect things as a hobby, you are not necessarily a hoarder. You may even become obsessive about it and seek out the collectibles on a full-time basis. However, hoarding becomes a problem when you have a compulsion for it. When you can't control the amount of collectibles you have or the collecting interferes with doing other important things in your life (such as going to school or work), you may have a hoarding disorder.

Therefore, while there's no documentation of hoarding disorder being its' own mental illness, it can have the same effects as one which is why many people view it as a separate mental health problem.

Examining the Mind of a Hoarder

People with a hoarding disorder have a difficult time controlling their anxiety over something that they fear. Much of this fear comes from feelings that they will undergo great distress if they do not have the collected items in difficult times. For example, hoarders who collect newspapers may feel they need to have information present around them in case they need to know something or someone else comes to them in a panic with questions or needing help. They may also think that they may need the newspapers to start a fire if their heater goes out during a blizzard or another natural disaster.

Sometimes people who hoard don't really know why they need to save the things they do, but they still can't bear to throw them away. They just feel as though they will regret it someday if they throw something away, and this thought makes them uncomfortable.

For an inside look into the mind of a hoarder, think about one of your most prized possessions that you can't throw away yet haven't used or looked at in years. Are you saving it because you think you may need to use it someday? Or do you just keep it around because you just need to know it's there? Well, intensify that idea and think what would happen if you thought the same thing about your trash, animals, bottles, cans or other household items? You would begin to clutter your home to the point of not being able to walk around without pushing your collectibles out of the way. Does this sound a bit too far-fetched? It's not to someone who has a hoarding disorder.

Treatment for the Hoarder

Compulsive hoarders can find treatment in many of the same ways that sufferers of OCD do - a combination of medication and therapy. Antidepressant medication is the most common form of prescription drugs prescribed to individuals with characteristics of compulsive hoarding. Some of these include:

  • Anafranil
  • Paxil
  • Prozac
  • Luvox
  • Zoloft
  • Celexa

Therapy includes examining the person's thoughts and changing them, and this leads to a change in behavior also referred to as a cognitive-behavioral approach.

Hoarders in Recovery

It's important to note that people with OCD or hoarding disorder cannot be cured but instead live in recovery. Sufferers may need medication and/or therapy for their entire life and will always need to work on their fear and anxiety, as well as being mindful of their compulsions.

Hoarding Disorder