by Melanie VanDyke, PhD, Sandra Carusa, PhD, & Tara Warren, PharmD Candidate
Melanie Van Dyke

Hoarding behaviors range from the normal (i.e., acquiring and saving items we do not need and/or will not use) to the clinically diagnosable (i.e., having areas of your home that are not usable due to clutter). Most of us fall somewhere on this continuum. In times of crisis, humans and other animals can have an increased drive toward hoarding behaviors.  However, these efforts to secure material resources can be problematic to the individual and our community.

Now is certainly a time of stress for many people. In addition to health issues, people are stressed about losing employment or being over-worked. They are also concerned about having basic supplies to meet their needs. Anxiety about finances and resource availability can lead to hoarding behaviors. Believing that you are “doing something” to prevent your fears can give you a false sense of control and temporarily relieve anxiety. The problem with using hoarding behaviors to cope is that the feelings of situational control and the resulting anxiety relief are so very temporary, leading individuals into a cycle of even more hoarding behaviors.

The impact of over-acquiring on the community is clear. Stores have been overwhelmed due to feared disruptions in availability, even when products are not in short supply. Periodically, people who are in need cannot get things like toilet paper and medications. Pharmacies are dealing with this situation as people are trying to hoard certain medications in hopes that they may be used as treatment in the future. Gathering these medications gives a short-term sense of relief; however, it puts people who truly need this medicine at risk. People who currently use certain medications for symptom relief or treating their health problems are now without. These medication-hoarding behaviors could prove very harmful to patients both physically and mentally. 

There are some strategies to quell the natural impulse to acquire more than is needed. Shopping with a list and not deviating from this list is one strategy. You will also want to include quantities on your list that will supply you up to your next shopping trip, not until the next decade. Making sure you are doing all you can to manage stress is also helpful. Thirty minutes of daily moderate cardiovascular activity, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness meditation exercises, and scheduled enjoyable activities are a few things to try. If you need more support, ADAA has therapists who can provide helpful, individualized advice about coping with this crisis.

About the Authors

Melanie VanDyke, PhD is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy.  Dr. VanDyke has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and is a Licensed Psychologist with extensive experience in evidence-based treatments for anxiety-related disorders, including hoarding, social anxiety, OCD, and Tourette syndrome.  At St. Louis College of Pharmacy, Melanie VanDyke teaches pre-pharmacy students and continues her behavioral research to improve health outcomes and student learning.  Her recent work on medication-related risk factors focuses on women who manage medications for older family members.  Dr. VanDyke’s research highlights the risks of medication hoarding during the opioid epidemic.  This research includes collaborations with UMSL and Trinity College Dublin to develop assessment tools for Medication Saving Behaviors (medication hoarding) and introduce pharmacy students to interdisciplinary research.  Dr. VanDyke enjoys being a member of ADAA’s Public Education Committee.

Dr. Sandra Carusa received her Ph.D. from UM-St. Louis in Clinical Psychology.  She completed a VA Internship specializing in Neuropsychology and a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Anxiety and Related Disorders with Alec Pollard, Ph.D. Dr. Carusa spent the last twenty years with a dual focus on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy of anxiety and related disorders as well as neuropsychological assessment. She has held clinical and research appointments at Saint Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute, Saint Louis University School of Medicine, and Washington University School of Medicine. Dr. Carusa now primarily conducts therapy in private practice and provides clinical services as a part of research studies.

Tara Warren, BS, PharmD Candidate (Class of 2022) is in her second year of professional training at St. Louis College of Pharmacy.  Ms. Warren received her Bachelor of Science in Pharmaceutical Sciences with an emphasis in Health Humanities, graduating Magna Cum Laude.  At St. Louis College of Pharmacy, Tara Warren works as a Psychology Tutor and a Research Assistant.  Her interprofessional research team centers on Medication Saving Behaviors and the intersection between psychology and pharmacy.  Tara Warren has completed the St. Louis College of Pharmacy Research Fundamentals Training and has examined the relationship between medication hoarding, medication adherence, risk factors, and generalized hoarding behaviors in college students and older adults. Ms. Warren has presented her research at professional conferences, including the Midwest Medication Safety Symposium and St. Louis College of Pharmacy’s Student Research Symposium.  Tara Warren is a Pharmacy Intern with three years of experience and holds a Pharmacy Student License.