Health Issues

What’s the Relationship between OCD and Hoarding?

posted: 05/03/12
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More About HoardingAbout Hoarding: Buried Alive, Hoarding Diagnosis and Treatment

Hoarding is characterized as a compulsive disorder when it includes specific elements, like an inability to discard items and extreme anxiety when forced to do so. This type of compulsive hoarding, which is very different from, say, collecting model trains and keeping them on shelves in your family room, interferes with the hoarder's life and impacts his family. Sometimes, it can even present dangers, like accumulated clutter creating a fire or health hazard.

Although hoarding is currently considered a specific variety of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), there's some debate about whether it always fits into this category. Where obsessive hoarding is probably a form of anxiety control, like OCD, it can exist without other common OCD habits being present, and people suffering from more traditional forms of OCD don't necessarily hoard objects.

Some mental health professionals believe that, in a small percentage of cases, hoarding may be more closely associated with other conditions. Some likely candidates are impulse control disorders, like compulsive gambling, bipolar disorder and depression. Obsessive hoarding disorder does respond to many of the same treatments as OCD, though.

One problem with categorizing, diagnosing and treating compulsive hoarding is that hoarders can be reluctant to seek help, either because of embarrassment or because they feel that there's nothing wrong with their behavior. Another problem is that hoarding can occur within a wide spectrum, from a large but manageable collection of items, like old newspapers, to a sufferer's inability to function normally because of mountains of objects littering every available corner of his living space. The recognition of hoarding as a mental illness is relatively new, too, and methods for properly classifying and treating it are still in the developmental stages.

Once diagnosed, hoarding can be treated, but like more common forms of OCD, it isn't a condition that can always be handled with medication alone. Drugs, like serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), seem to work best when used in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapies. This two-pronged approach can take time, sometimes years, and a real desire for change is also necessary for a hoarder to combat the illness and find a successful treatment strategy.

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