Clinical and Research News
National Study Gives Insight Into Buying, Hoarding Behavior
Psychiatric News
Volume 44 Number 16 page 27-27

Her family called her a "Messy," which is German for" compulsive hoarder." Sigrid (not her real name) had stowed so much stuff in her home that when she died, it took her family a half-hour to rummage through it until they found her body.

Sigrid was not an anomaly. About 1 of every 20 Germans is a compulsive hoarder, a new study has found.

The study was headed by Astrid Mueller, M.D., director of the Psychosomatic and Psychotherapeutic Department of the University Clinic Erlangen. Results were published online May 4 in Behavior Research and Therapy.

This appears to be the first investigation into the prevalence rate of compulsive hoarding in a nationally representative sample of Germans—in fact, the first such look at the problem in a nationally representative sample from any European country. Subjects were some 2,300 individuals from throughout Germany. They were evaluated with the German Compulsive Hoarding Inventory, which is a modified version of the American Saving Inventory—Revised.

About 5 percent of the sample were found to be compulsive hoarders, a rate comparable to what was found in the only American-based survey conducted on the subject and published in the July 2008 Behavior Research and Therapy. Although women were somewhat more likely to be compulsive hoarders than men, the difference was not significant.

Mueller and her colleagues also evaluated their subjects with the German Compulsive Buying Scale, which is a translated version of the American Compulsive Buying Scale, to determine which subjects were compulsive buyers. They then looked to see whether there was any link between compulsive hoarding and compulsive shopping. Indeed there was—and a highly significant one. About two-thirds of compulsive hoarders were also compulsive buyers, and about 40 percent of compulsive buyers were compulsive hoarders.

Mueller was not surprised by this finding, she told Psychiatric News, since studies of treatment-seeking population samples have harvested similar results.

Their findings have implications for psychiatrists, Mueller believes." Patients with compulsive hoarding should be asked about their buying habits, and patients with compulsive buying should be asked whether they also hoard items." If compulsive hoarders are also compulsive buyers, of course, then there is the question of how to treat them. Mueller will now attempt to develop a specific treatment for those with both conditions, she said.

The reason or reasons why people hoard are in dispute. Some experts on the subject argue that hoarding is a subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder; others postulate that it is a separate syndrome (Psychiatric News, June 6, 2008). The reasons that people buy compulsively are also not clear. Mueller believes that "shopping and buying are a means of escaping from problems or negative mood states." Indeed, a French psychiatrist found that all of the compulsive buyers in his study met DSM-IV criteria for a major depressive disorder, and a number came from families with a history of depression or bipolar disorder (Psychiatric News, July 19, 2002). However, the French psychiatrist also found that compulsive buying was linked with excessive use of alcohol and gambling. So could compulsive buying be an addiction disorder? Perhaps, he speculated—which is why more study is needed.

An abstract of "The Prevalence of Compulsive Hoarding and Its Association With Compulsive Buying in a German Population-Based Sample" can be accessed at<www.sciencedirect.com> by clicking on "B," then "Behavior Research and Therapy," "Articles in Press," and then check article 35. ▪

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