Many people believe compulsive hoarding to be an OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). However, people that suffer from an OCD may for example have a compulsion to continually wash their hands, but do not exhibit any signs of a compulsion to hoard. Because of this, and also because of the severe repercussions that hoarding has on people’s social lives, it is treated as an illness in its own right, having its own therapeutic treatments, and in some cases, a certain range of drugs that have proved successful.
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But as well as being considered as an OCD related condition, hoarding may also being linked to several other disorders including:
Impulsive disorder (Impulse buying and theft).
It is quite usual for those with a hoarding disorder to believe that they are the only one who behaves in such an irrational manner. However, this not the case, and it is thought that as any as one in every two hundred people in the UK alone are compulsive hoarders, and that in the United States, the condition affects more than two million individuals; furthermore, these are conservative estimates.
The hoarding compulsion can begin during childhood, or the early years of adolescence, but because in these early years the sufferer may be living with their parents, the compulsion is somewhat more controlled as the young person does not have free reign to be able to spread the clutter all around the residence.
As stated above, genetics may be a contributory factor but it is also natural for children to pick up habits and behaviour patterns from their parents, so often, the offspring of a hoarding couple may also pick up the habit by following the poor role modelling shown by their parents. It is however quite rare for hoarding to spread through a family, and more often than not, it is other outside family members that step in to try and help, or to report the situation to the appropriate specialists for treatment.
But what causes compulsive hoarding? Well there is no finite answer, but there are several conditions that can result in a person developing the compulsion. For example, a difficulty with data processing in the brain can bring about the urge to hoard. Some people can have a problem with categorising their possessions, and this can lead to a problem with determining which items are valuable and which are not. Other people have poor memories, and this can lead to a compulsion to keep everything within plain sight because they mistakenly feel it will make it easier to find. Of course the reverse is true when the amount of clutter becomes so great that clutter just obscures other clutter hidden beneath the uppermost layers. Then there are those who simply have problems deciding what to keep and what to throw away; the result being that nothing gets thrown away.
Misconstrued beliefs can also lead to hoarding. Some people form a strong emotional attachment to many or all of their possessions, and this leads to them not wanting to discard anything. Other people have a jealous, controlling feeling about their possessions, always wanting to know where they are, and not wanting anybody else to touch them or interfere with them in any way.
Emotional distress can also result in hoarding. Some people are so fixated about hoarding that the mere thought of discarding any of their clutter can cause severe distress and depression, and many simply cannot stop thinking about objects until they acquire them. There is also the fact that a lot of chronic hoarders will simply put off any decision making about discarding anything, as this temporarily makes them feel more comfortable.
The reality of chronic hoarding is that it is a severely debilitating mental illness. The quality of life that a chronic hoarder can expect is drastically reduced. The environment in which they live is unclean and unhygienic, and in the worst case scenarios the rooms and equipment within the rooms (kitchens, sinks, dishwashers, ovens, bathrooms, bath, showers, etc) are all unusable do to the amount of clutter that is stored in them.
Due to the nature of their illness it is virtually impossible for a chronic hoarder to rehabilitate themselves. It is usually left to outside friends or family members to intervene by persuading the hoarder to seek professional help.
A complete cure may not be possible, but with the right applied CBT (Cognizant Behavioural Therapy), the condition can be managed, and the amount of clutter drastically reduced.