Prospective evaluation of the four DSM-IV criteria for alcohol abuse in a large population

Am J Psychiatry. 2005 Feb;162(2):350-60. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.162.2.350.


Objective: In 1994 DSM-IV presented new criteria for substance abuse as repetitive problems in any one of four areas reflecting social, interpersonal, and legal difficulties. The authors systematically evaluate the performance of each of the four diagnostic criteria for alcohol abuse (problems in role functioning, alcohol use in hazardous situations, alcohol-related legal problems, and social or interpersonal problems) and determine the prognosis associated with a threshold of one versus two or more criterion endorsements.

Method: Baseline and 5-year follow-up data were analyzed for 2,596 men and women from the Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism, including 1,881 individuals with no alcohol-related diagnosis, and 715 with alcohol abuse, after excluding subjects with alcohol dependence. Performance of each criterion was analyzed for the entire group and for the 565 individuals who endorsed only one criterion at baseline.

Results: One alcohol abuse criterion was endorsed by 79% of subjects with alcohol abuse, 18.5% endorsed two, and 2.5% endorsed three. Compared with subjects who endorsed no criteria, individuals who reported any of the four diagnostic criteria at baseline had higher rates of alcohol and drug intake and related problems and higher rates of future difficulties. Diagnostic thresholds of one versus two abuse criteria at baseline performed equally well regarding most outcomes, although endorsement of two criteria predicted a higher risk for progression to dependence. The criterion most frequently endorsed--hazardous use--was associated with baseline substance use characteristics and problematic outcomes similar to those for the other criteria.

Conclusions: The four DSM-IV alcohol abuse criteria performed well regarding both cross-sectional characteristics and the prediction of future problems, but no single diagnostic criterion was superior to any other. The similarity of outcomes for subjects with diagnostic thresholds of one versus two or more criteria may favor the continued use of a threshold of one criterion in the diagnosis of alcohol abuse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / classification
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Alcoholism / classification
  • Alcoholism / diagnosis*
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales / statistics & numerical data*
  • Psychometrics
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Adjustment
  • Social Control, Formal
  • Substance-Related Disorders / classification
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Terminology as Topic