Background: Although dependence on alcohol appears to be a reliable unitary construct, abuse has not found a similar level of support as a separate construct. This paper describes a confirmatory factor analysis of the DSM-IV alcohol abuse and dependence criteria in a general population sample. Methods: Data from alcohol drinkers (n = 7746) were obtained from a cross-sectional study of a large, representative sample of the Australian general population. One- and two-factor solutions for the DSM-IV criteria for abuse and dependence (assessed by CIDI-Auto) were compared using confirmatory factor analysis. Results: Approximately 74% of Australians had used alcohol 12 or more times in the past year and 19% met at least one DSM-IV alcohol abuse or dependence criterion. Overall 6% met criteria for an alcohol use disorder (1.9% abuse, 4.1% dependence). More men than women met criteria for an alcohol use disorder and the prevalence of alcohol use disorders decreased with increasing age. Both one- and two-factor solutions from the confirmatory factor analyses provided an adequate fit to the data for the overall sample. The correlation between the abuse and dependence factors in the two-factor model was extremely high (0.95). Conclusion: Alcohol abuse and dependence criteria were most parsimoniously described by a single continuous construct incorporating all eleven abuse and dependence criteria.