Hoarding and Substance Abuse

Hoarding and substance abuse may seem unrelated. However the two often accompany each other, reinforce each other and reduce overall quality of life. When you learn more about hoarding and treatment options, you give yourself and your loved ones the chance to heal.

What Is Hoarding, and How Does It Affect Daily Life?

Some people feel compelled to acquire and hang on to material possessions. They attribute meaningfulness to items and may come to live in a space that is difficult or even dangerous to inhabit. Social Work Today shares that “3 to 5% of the population has a hoarding disorder.”1

These individuals may feel overwhelmed by symptoms such as the following:

  • Irrational and excessive attachment to material possessions
  • Extreme discomfort with conversations about getting rid of things and, in some cases, discomfort even with another person touching the hoarded items
  • A cluttered home, car, or other personal space
  • Stacks of junk mail, newspapers, or other items that are normally recycled or thrown out by those who are not hoarders
  • An unsanitary amount of waste or trash
  • Indecision
  • Procrastination
  • A tendency to collect relatively useless items, like napkins from restaurants
  • An impaired social life
  • Shame and embarrassment regarding a cluttered space

People who hoard experience great emotional distress and anxiety over the thought of parting with their possessions. Piles of possessions may block exits or bathrooms and pose fire and health hazards to those who live in or visit the home.

Hoarding is an anxiety disorder, and it affects more than just the individual facing this mental health issue. As the Anxiety and Depression Association of America explains, hoarding, “has deleterious effects — emotional, physical, social, financial, and even legal — for a hoarder and family members.”2 Hoarding hurts. And this hurt can cause individuals to turn to substance use to alleviate hoarding symptoms or the effects of caring for someone with a hoarding disorder.

What Is Substance Use Disorder?

Substance use and its related problems aren’t unusual. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) shares that nearly 23 million Americans need treatment for substance use disorders.3

NIDA estimates that these untreated drug-related health issues cost American taxpayers nearly $534 billion each year. This include expenses associated with healthcare and treatment as well as crime and law enforcement including jail and prison costs. These costs are also largely preventable with access to effective prevention and treatment resources.

Although the signs and symptoms of substance abuse will vary depending on the substance being used, some of the more general signs and symptoms of substance use disorder include the following:

  • Regular use of a substance
  • Failed attempts at stopping use
  • Impaired life functioning because of substance use
  • Engaging in risky behaviors while using
  • Neglected appearance
  • Weight loss
  • Financial problems
  • Health problems related to the substance being used

Substance use can deeply impact the lives of those using substances as well as their loved ones, especially those who might depend on the substance abuser. The consequences of substance abuse vary depending on the drug being used and the individual’s circumstances but can include serious health problems, trouble with the law and injury to self or others. Substance use is also often closely intertwined with other mental health issues such as depression, anxiety disorders and hoarding.

What Is a Dual Diagnosis, and How Do You Treat Hoarding and Substance Abuse?

When a person struggles with both hoarding and a substance use disorder, he or she has a Dual Diagnosis. A Dual Diagnosis begins to impact your life at home, at school or at work. It needs to be professionally assessed and treated so that you can begin to understand just what it is you face and how you can begin the healing process.

Both substance use disorder and anxiety disorders like hoarding can run in families. Potential contributors to these issues include both genetic and environmental factors, so your family can tell you a lot about your personal risk. However mental health and addiction issues can affect anyone, so a clean family slate doesn’t mean you’re immune.

Just as hoarding cannot be treated by the mere removal of hoarded items, substance abuse cannot be treated simply by removing the substance from a user’s life. These problems have deep psychological roots and a complex relationship with one another. Both must be addressed for real healing to begin. Integrated or Dual Diagnosis treatment will provide the in-depth care and long-term support needed for recovery.


Van Pelt, Jennifer. “Treating People Who Hoard.” Social Work Today. Jun. 2011.

Neziroglu, Fugen. “Hoarding: The Basics.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Accessed 5 Oct. 2018.

“DrugFacts: Nationwide Trends.” National Institute on Drug Abuse. Jun. 2015.

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