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Hoarding and the Link to Substance Abuse

hoardingHave you ever known someone who can’t seem to throw anything away?  Perhaps they have two completely independent wardrobes: one for now and one for when they lose those pesky 15 pounds? Or they might have an affinity for superheroes and decided to make a variety of caped crusaders the main design element in every room in their home. What if they collect unread newspapers?  Cans of food they will never consume? What if the individual is unable to throw away the refuse of everyday life that the rest of us refer to as trash?

Hoarding is not defined by simply having large collections, even if the collections are of significant importance to the collector. Rather, hoarding has been described as a mental illness and will be included in the newest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual that is released by the psychological community to bring consistency to the industry. When looking at hoarding and the significant disorder known as substance abuse, it is interesting to see the many parallels that exist. In fact, one expert in the treatment of hoarding has used the term “addiction” to describe it.

Similarities Exist Between Hoarding and Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is a diagnosable condition, even before the disease of addiction is present. There are many ways in which a person can abuse drugs, both deliberately and without an actual intent to misuse them. When someone shortens the time between doses of their prescription pain medication, they are abusing their prescription. When someone chooses to obtain their pain medication from a friend, a relative or a dealer rather than from a pharmacy with a prescription from their doctor, they are abusing their drugs, even if they have a legitimate physical or mental condition that needs to be addressed. After all, when a doctor prescribes a medication, whether for pain or anxiety or any other condition, the doctor performs an examination and reviews one’s medical history in order to prevent drug interactions and allergic reactions and to maintain dosages at a safe level. Finally, if a person uses either prescription or illicit drugs for recreational purposes, they are also engaging in substance abuse.

womenIn many cases, however, an individual’s reasons for engaging in substance abuse on a recreational basis are associated with another mental illness. For instance, someone suffering from depression may use drugs in order to avoid the issues in their life that they feel are out of their control. Someone with an anxiety disorder may choose drugs that calm them or otherwise “treat” their anxiety. Likewise, an individual who suffers from a hoarding disorder may be avoiding the real issues in their life that are affecting their ability to function normally.

According to an article published on PsychCentral, the condition of compulsive hoarding can develop after tragic events within the family unit. It is also important to note, however, that it can also occur after physical issues including strokes or other brain injuries. In fact, there may even be physical reasons why an individual is or could become a hoarder in that the brain functions differently during the decision-making process when compared to individuals who do not suffer from compulsive hoarding or other psychiatric conditions.

Treatment Must Occur Simultaneously

When an individual suffers from both substance abuse or addiction and a compulsive hoarding condition, it is important that treatments be completed at the same time, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. By simultaneously treating both conditions, the recovering drug user stands a better chance of regaining a better perspective on their life, which may prevent instances of relapse into chronic drug abuse.Treatment for substance abuse and addiction will vary depending on the individual circumstances. There is no single treatment that will work for everyone, unfortunately. On the up side, however, this means that each person receives unique and specialized care for their very unique needs. For instance, a woman who suffers from substance abuse and a hoarding disorder who has lost a child can receive the counseling needed to get control of her grief. Another woman may have started to hoard belongings in response to the loss of relationships with family members as a direct result of substance abuse. Yet another woman may have developed substance abuse and later begun to hoard her property as the result of her inability to earn enough money to support herself or her children due to drug-related inconsistencies in employment. Each of these women brings with her a very different life story and a different perspective. The ways in which each of these women’s condition is treated should be specific to her needs.

What Are the Treatments for Hoarding?

If you suffer from a hoarding disorder, you have probably encountered a friend or family member who simply insists that you can throw everything away and be “cured.” These words might have instilled a great amount of fear or panic within you. On the other hand, if you know someone who may suffer from compulsive hoarding, you may have said these words – with pure intentions – and been confused by the virulent reactions you may have encountered. This is a result of the intense attachment that someone who suffers from compulsive hoarding has for each piece of property they own, regardless of realistic usability, value or the condition of the item.

In order to treat compulsive hoarding, it is necessary to receive counseling from a professional therapist who is experienced in this condition. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a viable treatment that has been met with varying degrees of success, primarily because many individuals who find comfort in their “things” do not see the negative impact that the “things” have on their lives. They don’t see their home as unlivable or uninhabitable. They don’t see their lives as out of control. They may actually see the “things” they have hoarded as the very reason they are in control.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of therapy that teaches an individual a new and healthier way to view their lives, the world around them, and their place within it. Based on the model that all behaviors are learned, cognitive behavioral therapy helps the recovering person “unlearn” one way of thinking and learn many new skills, such as:

  • Better ways to cope with loss (including the loss of the collected or hoarded property)
  • How to make better decisions about what to keep and what to throw away (including the difference between usable goods and trash)
  • Practical, hands-on lessons on how to manage a home, if possible in the actual residence that was the site of the hoarding activity
  • How to relate to family members in a healthy way through family counseling sessions
  • How to recognize hoarding behaviors in order to seek more intensive help, including inpatient residential treatment if necessary

While medication may be used in certain situations, the evidence has not necessarily shown a truly effective result. Again, each case is unique and independent of another. Working together, you and your therapist may decide that medication is warranted, provided the medication is not prohibited in a co-occurring drug recovery program.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is also used to treat substance abuse in many cases, as well as other co-occurring conditions that may be present. If you or someone you love suffers from substance abuse and hoarding, depending upon the type of treatment program you choose, you may have access to additional therapies or educational opportunities that can help. For instance:

  • Life skills classes can help with coping strategies without unhealthy behaviors.
  • Art therapy is a way in which an individual can express herself nonverbally.
  • Relaxation techniques, including yoga, can reduce stress and help individuals maintain sobriety and healthy living ideals.
  • Acupuncture has been shown to be effective for chronic pain and may help individuals find drug-free alternatives to certain health issues related to substance abuse recovery.

Living a Life Free of Obstacles

Obstacles come in many forms. An obstacle to happiness can be the drugs an individual has come to rely on, or it may be the physical walls we build around us in the form of hoarded objects. In either case, it is important to know that help is available. If you or someone you love is having trouble finding her way through life because of issues like substance abuse and hoarding, please contact The Orchid as soon as possible to learn how we can help.

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