Hoarding and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

As you may know, hoarding behaviors have long been associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder. This is due, in large, by the fact that those that display hoarding behaviors usually do so by some compulsion to collect items. Although hoarding behavior is typically associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder, there are a variety of different disorders known to show signs of a link with hoarding behavior. These disorders include schizophrenia and dementia. There is even some research to suggest that hoarding may be its own disorder, perhaps on a spectrum with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

In order to understand the difference between obsessive-compulsive disorder and hoarding, we must examine the differences in the symptoms of each disorder. In analyzing these factors, we may learn more about what drives individuals to hoard, increasing the chances of improving methods of treatment for those suffering from this compulsion. Today, Hoarding Help Central will be discussing the differences between hoarding and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Let’s get started!

What is Hoarding?

Before we can fully compare and contrast hoarding and obsessive-compulsive disorder, we must understand what hoarding is. Hoarding is described as the compulsion to acquire objects to such an extent that it begins to impair the use of the living space. While not always the case, the objects collected and kept by hoarders are considered to have little to no value by other people. Worst of all, hoarders typically have a hard time disposing of the accumulated items. There are many times where the hoarder is even completely unwilling to part with the objects that they have accumulated, despite their having little to no functional value.

The result of such behavior is a living space overrun with objects, proving detrimental to the hoarding individuals way of life as well as the lives of friends, family members, and pets. Eventually, once the hoarding behavior has gotten well out of control, it can become nearly impossible to navigate throughout the home due to the amount of objects taking up space. Furniture is often used to pile these objects up and any flat surface becomes a new home for clutter.

The Link Between Hoarding and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

So what is the link, if any, between hoarding and obsessive-compulsive disorder? The primary place of interest in discussing hoarding and obsessive-compulsive disorder is in compulsions and the reason behind them. Many describe hoarding as a “successful compulsion” in that the individual suffering from this behavior are reluctant to seek treatment for their compulsion, leading to difficulty solving the problem.

In obsessive-compulsive disorder, compulsions are thought to be used as a method of reducing anxiety and other forms of distress. To some extent, these compulsions must work to alleviate feelings of distress in individuals suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, otherwise individuals would not continue to use them in this way.

Aside from compulsions, avoidance of situations that cause distress is also commonplace. An individual with obsessive-compulsive disorder who has a fear surrounding contamination may obsessively wash their hands to reduce the fear that they have been exposed to germs, for example. These individuals are especially susceptible to extreme anxiety, leading many to classify obsessive-compulsive disorder as an anxiety disorder.

Interestingly, many individuals suffering from a hoarding form of obsessive-compulsive disorder are observed to suffer from significantly less anxiety in proportion to the severity of their compulsion than those with other forms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Why is this and how do the same motivating factors manifest differently in an individual exhibiting hoarding behaviors?

It is commonly believed that those with hoarding behaviors use hoarding as a way to cope with intrusive thoughts about not having something that may be valuable, being unable to remember something important, or unnecessarily wasting something. This is a theme that we find commonly in obsessive-compulsive disorder overall. The anxiety that is caused by these sorts of thoughts are what drive someone to hoard items in fear that they will lose, forget, or waste something.

The real difference between general obsessive-compulsive disorder and hoarding behavior lies in the amount of comfort one receives from their behavior. The reason that many describe hoarding as a successful compulsion is because many report that hoarding behavior brings them a since of comfort, keeping any anxiety at bay. Many suffering from a more general form of obsessive-compulsive disorder never find true relief from acting on their compulsions whereas those that hoard do. In fact, anxiety is more often caused by the thought of parting with their accumulated objects- not in collecting them.

Can Hoarding Be Treated Similarly to OCD?

Considering the similarities and differences between hoarding behavior and obsessive-compulsive disorder, you may wonder whether or not established treatment methods for obsessive-compulsive disorder prove helpful in treating hoarding behavior. There are two well-established treatment methods for those with obsessive-compulsive disorder: serotonin reuptake blocking medications and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Medication doesn’t seem to prove especially effective when treating hoarding as a specific form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. This may be due to the fact that medication works to reduce anxiety by first reducing the frequency of intrusive thoughts and their intensity. Since hoarders have been shown to either avoid or successfully manage their anxiety with their hoarding behavior, this makes medication largely unimpactful. Hoarders view otherwise valueless objects as significantly valuable to them and medication does nothing to address this fact.

In terms of cognitive behavioral therapy, medication may work to make this form of treatment more tolerable for someone suffering from hoarding behavior but it isn’t common that someone will seek treatment for a problem that they don’t consider to be an issue. This is the case in those with hoarding tendencies and behaviors. This is further evidence for the argument that hoarding is a successful compulsion as hoarding behaviors successfully alleviate the distress caused by anxiety related to obsessive-compulsive disorder.