General population data are presented on patterns and predictors of temporal progression of alcohol dependence symptoms in the general population. The data come from the National Comorbidity Survey, a nationally representative general population survey of respondents ages 15-54. Lifetime symptom classes were estimated with latent class analysis (LCA). A 4-class LCA solution, including a 1st asymptomatic class and 3 progressively more serious symptomatic classes, was found to fit the data. Probability of initial symptom onset among drinkers was found to be highest in the 10-24 age range, to be higher among men than women, and to have increased dramatically in the past 4 decades. Age, gender, and cohort effects were less powerful in predicting symptom progression. A narrowing of the gender difference over time was due largely to a convergence in initial symptom onset among men and women ages 10-24. These results suggest that a rise in initial problems was more important than an increase in the transition from problems to dependence in accounting for the growing prevalence of alcohol dependence during the post-World War II years in the United States.