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J Stud Alcohol. 1999 Nov;60(6):746-55.

The validity of DSM-IV alcohol abuse: drunk drivers versus all others.

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Department of Psychiatry and School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York 10032, USA.



Prior research in a community sample indicated that almost half the individuals receiving a diagnosis of DSM-IV alcohol abuse did so on the basis of only one symptom, driving after drinking too much. While this is certainly unwise behavior, it may not be a psychiatric disorder. Therefore, we investigated the differential validity of this subgroup of abuse cases by testing the association of a set of external validating criterion variables with three groups: those who met criteria for abuse just for drinking-driving, those who met criteria by other means and those with no alcohol diagnosis. Present status of past cases of abuse was also investigated.


Subjects were 22,204 U.S. household residents (a subset of a national probability sample) interviewed in 1992 with the Alcohol Use Disorders and Associated Disabilities Interview Schedule. The generalized logit model was the principal means of analysis.


Subjects who met criteria for DSM-IV alcohol abuse just for drinking-driving differed from subjects with no diagnosis on about half the variables tested, while those who met criteria for abuse in other ways differed from subjects with no diagnosis on all variables tested. The two abuse groups differed from each other on some but not all variables. Past cases of abuse for drinking-driving and past cases of other abuse were equally likely to have remitted in the last 12 months, and slightly less likely to meet criteria for current dependence.


Further conceptual and empirical work is needed to resolve the difficulties with the DSM-IV alcohol abuse category.

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