An item-response theory analysis of DSM-IV Alcohol-Use disorder criteria and "binge" drinking in undergraduates

Cheryl L. Beseler, Laura A. Taylor, Robert F. Leeman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Objective: This is the first study to examine the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), criteria for alcohol-use disorders and heavy episodic (or "binge") drinking in a college sample using item-response theory (IRT) analysis. IRT facilitates assessment of the severity of the criteria, their ability to distinguish between those at greatest and lowest risk, and the value of adding a "binge" drinking criterion. Method: In a sample of undergraduate drinkers (n = 353), we conducted factor analyses to determine whether the criteria best fit a one- or two-factor structure. We then conducted IRT analyses to obtain item-characteristic curves indicating the probability of endorsing a criterion at increasing levels of alcohol-use-disorder risk. These analyses were first conducted including current (i.e., past-year) DSM-IV alcohol-use-disorder criteria only and then rerun adding weekly "binge" drinking. Results: A single-factor model of the DSM-IV criteria did not differ significantly from a two-factor model. After including "binge" drinking, two factors fit the data slightly better than one factor but with a dominant single factor. Withdrawal was the most severe criterion, whereas tolerance and "larger/longer" were the least severe. Time spent drinking and a combined social/legal difficulties criterion had the best ability to discriminate those at greatest and lowest risk for an alcohol-use disorder. "Binge" drinking showed both low discrimination and low severity. Conclusions: To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine DSM-IV criteria in an undergraduate sampleusing IRT. In this sample, abuse and dependence were intermixed on a continuum of severity, and "binge" drinking was in the least severe region.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)418-423
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Toxicology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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