What causes hoarding?
Doctors point to several potential causes for a person to become a hoarder.
- Altered brain connections: Studies showed that abnormal brain development and brain lesions could lead to compulsive behaviors of hoarding. Sometimes, hoarding may begin after brain damage due to surgery, stroke, brain injury or infections. Compulsive hoarding is often seen in individuals who have autistic spectrum disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
- Serotonin and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): Research showed that the chemical serotonin seems to play a part in OCD. It is a chemical that the brain uses to transmit information. Altered serotonin levels may play a role in compulsive hoarding as well. Hoarders may develop the condition much later in life. In addition, hoarders have less awareness that their condition is abnormal compared to patients with OCD.
- Hereditary: As per research, up to 85 percent of people with compulsive hoarding usually name at least one other family member who has this problem. Hoarders may also have grown up in cluttered homes themselves and derive comfort from the clutter.
- Environmental conditions: Those who have faced early deprivation may develop hoarding as a coping mechanism later in life. This can be usually found on psychological examination of the patient.
- Stressful life events: Stressful life events such as a divorce or death of a loved one may trigger hoarding behavior.
Other mental health conditions such as social phobia or fear of social interactions, bipolar disorder, specific phobias or fears, anxiety and depression may give rise to compulsive hoarding behavior. Usually, hoarders may suffer from loneliness, substance abuse or alcohol dependence.
What is hoarding?
Hoarding is a severe psychological disorder. Hoarding is a disorder where a person gathers an excessive number of items and stores them. This is usually in a chaotic manner and results in unmanageable amounts of clutter. Hoarding can have a huge impact on a person’s ability to function independently and can carry a high level of risk for themselves and others. It can cause high levels of distress for those who live with a hoarder or who are close to a person who hoards. It can cause difficulties for communities working with people who hoard. Signs of a hoarding disorder may include
- Keeping or collecting items that may have little or no monetary value
- Finding it hard to categorize or organize items
- Having difficulties making decisions
- Struggling to manage everyday tasks, such as cooking, cleaning and paying bills
- Becoming attached to items and refusing to let anyone touch or borrow them
- Having poor relationships with family or friends
Treatment options: There is no cure for obsessive-compulsive hoarding, but there are ways to assist the hoarder and help them transition effectively to more healthy behaviors.
- Antidepressant medications (that increase the levels of serotonin in the brain) have been shown in research studies to lead to improvements in some compulsive hoarders.
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of antidepressants, are most commonly used to treat hoarding.
- Research involving paroxetine (Paxil), an SSRI, has shown that it may improve hoarding symptoms as well as other obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms.
- Medication alone cannot hope to treat the underlying behavior. For this, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may be more effective.
- CBT is more than just talk therapy. It goes beyond talking with the therapist. The therapist often visits the hoarder’s home and helps them to think more clearly about their possessions and learn to make decisions about them.
- CBT helps patients to
- Gradually confront things they fear to feel less afraid.
- Learn healthier ways to cope with stressful situations.
- Become aware of and subsequently change how they think in critical situations.
Individual and group therapy sessions are available. In addition, intensive daily outpatient therapy may be recommended for certain individuals.
Hoarding disorder may be difficult for families and friends to understand and manage, particularly if the person does not recognize that they have a problem with their hoarding. It may cause distress for families and present questions on how best to help. Some helpful ideas include
- Encourage the person to seek professional treatment.
- Try to learn as much as you can about the condition.
- Avoid going into their home or personal space and throwing things away without discussing it with them first. This may cause great distress for the person. Try to discuss it with them first and, if no agreement is reached, do not take it upon yourself to clear their clutter.
- Acknowledge their fears of losing their possessions and the changes they will have to make during treatment.
- Be realistic with expectations. Don’t expect too much too quickly.
- Seek support for yourself, whether speaking to a mental health professional or attending a support group.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
American Psychiatric Association
Top Why Does a Person Become a Hoarder Related Articles
Abuse, Trauma, and Mental HealthSuffering abuse and trauma can put one at higher risk of developing PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Signs and symptoms of abuse or trauma include appetite or mood changes, alcohol and/or drug abuse, difficulty sleeping, and anger. Treatment may incorporate a combination of medication and talk therapy.
Adult ADHD SlideshowMost people don't associate adults with the term ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) but it is a common disorder in adulthood. Learn about symptoms, tests, treatment and medications for ADHD.
Adult ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)About 2%-6% of adults have ADHD, a common behavioral problem. Symptoms include impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattention. Treatment may involve ADHD education, attending a support group, skills training, and medication.
Adult ADHD QuizWhat are the symptoms of adult ADHD? Take this quiz to learn what it means for an adult to suffer from ADHD and what can be done about it.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (in Children and Adults)Autism in children and adults is a developmental disorder, characterized by impaired development in communication, social interaction, and behavior. Autism is classified as a pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), which is part of a broad spectrum of developmental disorders affecting young children and adults. There are numerous theories and studies about the cause of autism. The treatment model for autism is an educational program that is suitable to an individual's developmental level of performance. There is no "cure" for autism.
Autism SlideshowWhat is autism? Learn about the signs, symptoms, and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. Get information about the causes of autism and available autism treatment options.
Autism Screening and DiagnosisAutism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis requires two steps -- developmental screening and comprehensive diagnostic evaluation. Develpmental screening helps tell if children have delays. Comprehensive diagnostic evaulation may include looking at the child's behavior and development and interviewing the parents. It may also include hearing and vision screening, genetic testing, neurological testing, and other medical testing.
Autism QuizTake the Autism Spectrum Disorder Quiz related to the causes, reasons, symptoms, treatment, diagnosis, and therapies for this behavioral disorder.
Differences: Autism and Pervasive DevelopmentPervasive developmental disorders (PDDs) are a set of behavioral disorders that are present since early childhood. Although there is an overlap in the features of autism and PDDs, PDDs typically do not meet “all” the criteria for classical autism or Asperger’s syndrome. Both PDDs and autism cause a “socially awkward child.”
Autism: Early Signs and SymptomsAutism is known as a condition that falls under the category of the "autism spectrum disorders" because there is wide variation in the type and severity of symptoms people experience. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior of an individual. Autism is said to be a "developmental disorder" because the signs and symptoms of the disorder generally appear in the first two years of life. However; toddlers, teens, and adults also can have autism.
Early signs and symptoms can vary amongst infants, babies, toddlers, teens, and adults that may include; no eye contact, not responding to his or her name; doesn’t babble or “baby talk”; does not use language correctly; rocking; twirling; and head banging.
Mental HealthMental health is an optimal way of thinking, relating to others, and feeling. All of the diagnosable mental disorders fall under the umbrella of mental illness. Depression, anxiety, and substance-abuse disorders are common types of mental illness. Symptoms and signs of mental illness include irritability, moodiness, insomnia, headaches, and sadness. Treatment may involve psychotherapy and medication.
Mental Health: Marijuana Addiction and AbuseCannabis use disorder is when you're addicted to marijuana. Learn more about this condition and how to treat it.
Mental Health: Substance Abuse in Older AdultsAbuse of alcohol and drugs among older people has been called the invisible epidemic. Learn what to look out for to protect yourself or a loved one.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that causes a person to suffer repeated obsessions and compulsions. Symptoms include irresistible impulses despite a person's realization that the thoughts are irrational, excessive hand washing, skin picking, lock checking, or repeatedly rearranging items. People with OCD are more likely to develop trichotillomania, muscle or vocal tics, or an eating disorder. Treatment for OCD includes psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, and medication.
StressStress occurs when forces from the outside world impinge on the individual. Stress is a normal part of life. However, over-stress, can be harmful. There is now speculation, as well as some evidence, that points to the abnormal stress responses as being involved in causing various diseases or conditions.
Stress QuizStress creeps into everyone's life at one time or another, while some people will suffer from poorly managed chronic stress. If you're suffering, there are things you can do. Take the Stress Quiz to learn what you can do to beat the long-term effects of chronic stress.
What Are the 3 Main Symptoms of Autism?Autism or autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) can manifest as different symptoms in different children. The average age of diagnosis is 2 years, though some children may be detected at around the age of 5 years.