Compulsions, along with obsessions, are a hallmark feature of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). According to the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV; American Psychiatric Association, 1994), compulsions are "repetitive behaviors ... or mental acts . . . the goal of which is to prevent or reduce anxiety or distress" (p. 418). Although behaviors resembling compulsions occur at a range of frequencies in the normal population, in order to be considered pathological the compulsions must be associated with either intense distress or functional impairment. Impairment from compulsions can be quite severe, with some individuals spending several hours per day performing rituals, feeling unable to stop and attend to their daily responsibilities. Although the label compulsion has been applied to a broad range of repetitive behaviors, including excessive drinking, gambling, shopping, and so on, these behaviors are differentiated from true compulsions by the function they serve. This function will be described in detail later.
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