BACKGROUND: With preparations currently being made for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5th Edition (DSM-5), one prominent issue to resolve is whether alcohol use disorders are better represented as discrete categorical entities or as a dimensional construct. The purpose of this study was to investigate the latent structure of DSM-4th edition (DSM-IV) and proposed DSM-5 alcohol use disorders. METHODS: The study used the Wave 2 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) to conduct taxometric analyses of DSM-IV and DSM-5 alcohol use disorders defined by different thresholds to determine the taxonic or dimensional structure underlying the disorders. RESULTS: DSM-IV and DSM-5 alcohol abuse and dependence criteria with 3+ thresholds demonstrated a dimensional structure. Corresponding thresholds with 4+ criteria were clearly taxonic, as were thresholds defined by cut-offs of 5+ and 6+ criteria. CONCLUSIONS: DSM-IV and DSM-5 alcohol use disorders demonstrated a hybrid taxonic-dimensional structure. That is, DSM-IV and DSM-5 alcohol use disorders may be taxonically distinct compared to no disorder if defined by a threshold of 4 or more criteria. However, there may be dimensional variation remaining among non-problematic to subclinical cases. A careful and systematic program of structural research using taxometric and psychometric procedures is warranted.