Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Is Hoarding an Impulse Control Problem?

Impulse Control Problem

There is a distinct difference between an obsessive collector and someone who hoards. Someone who collects takes care of their possessions, chooses them carefully, and keeps them tightly, cleanly organized. Obsessive collectors typically have a catalog of their belongings, take good care of them, and experience feelings of pride and joy from the activity of collecting, as well as their actual collection. Hoarders, on the other hand, are the opposite. Most often, someone with a hoarding problem is not aware of what items they possess, lose track of their stock, and often do not take care of their belongings. Rather than being organized, clean, and accessible, the belongings of a hoarder are piled, stuffed, and destroyed through lack of care. Hoarders typically do not experience pride or joy about their growing number of belongings, though their brain does produce a large amount of dopamine every time they make a purchase and bring more belongings home. Hoarding is characterized by a deep amount of shame caused by a lack of impulse control. When trying to take away or clean out a hoarder’s belongings, there are feelings of terror, fear, abandonment, and despair. A hoarder’s belongings can be a security blanket of sorts, locking them in closely, while keeping the world out.

Hoarding is an impulse-control behavior which has been closely related to obsessive compulsive disorder in the past. In addition to OCD, hoarding can be co-occurring with a number of mood and personality disorders. Depression, for example, can include debilitating feelings of emotional numbness, detachment from pleasure, lack of motivation, and lethargy. Hoarding could simply be the result of an inability to get anything done due to the symptoms of depression.

With any mental health disorder, it is essential not to confront the problem as a problem to simply be taken care of. As one wouldn’t tell someone with clinical depression to “get happy” or someone with an anxiety disorder to “stop worrying”, one wouldn’t tell someone with a hoarding problem to just “get rid of everything”. Mental health treatment and recovery is a gradual process, with the potential for many slips and relapses.



Impulse control behaviors and co-occurring mental health disorders can be treated effectively for lifelong recovery. At Cottonwood Tucson, we offer an integrative approach to treating co-occurring disorders. Our internationally acclaimed residential treatment programs provide safety and understanding to clients, promoting hope and healing. For information on our unique programs for adults, call us today by dialing (800) 877-4520.

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