BACKGROUND In order to understand the validity of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed. (DSM-IV) alcohol abuse and dependence diagnoses, studies are needed in both clinical and general population samples. The purpose of this study was to examine the construct and criterion-oriented validity of DSM-IV alcohol dependence and abuse in the general population with respect to factor structure and their relationship to family history of alcoholism, treatment utilization, and psychiatric comorbidity. METHODS This analysis is based on data from the 2001-2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), in which nationally representative data were collected in personal interviews conducted with one randomly selected adult in each sample household or group quarters. A subset (n=26,946) of the NESARC sample (total n=43,093) who reported drinking one or more drinks during the year preceding the interview formed the basis of analyses. Latent variable modeling was used to assess the concurrent validity of DSM-IV alcohol abuse and dependence symptom items. RESULTS The latent variable modeling yielded one major factor related to alcohol dependence, a second factor related to alcohol abuse and a third smaller factor defined by tolerance. The validity of alcohol dependence in general population samples was further supported by statistically significant associations with family history of alcoholism, treatment utilization, and psychiatric and medical comorbidities. CONCLUSIONS The factor structure and relationship to external criterion variables observed in the study provide support for the further validity of DSM-IV alcohol dependence in the general population, whereas support for the validity of DSM-IV abuse was equivocal.