Using the theoretical model of nicotine dependence (ND) operationalized within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, fourth Edition (DSM-IV: American Psychiatric [American Psychiatric Association, 1994. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 4th ed. American Psychiatric Association, Washington, DC]) as a frame of reference, we used methods based in item response theory to link alternative instruments assessing adolescent nicotine dependence severity to a common latent continuum. A multi-ethnic cohort of 6th-10th graders selected from the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) completed five household interviews over 2 years. Youth who reported at least some cigarette use in the last 30 days prior to the interviews at waves W3-W5 completed measures of DSM-IV ND, the Modified Fagertrom Tolerance Questionnaire (mFTQ: Prokhorov et al., 1998) and the Nicotine Dependence Syndrome Scale (NDSS: Shiffman et al., 2004), yielding samples of 253, 241, and 296 respondents at W3-W5, respectively. Confirmatory factor analysis supported a primary dimension of ND. Each instrument's items had complementary and stable relationships to ND across multiple waves of assessment. By aligning symptoms along a common latent ND continuum, we evaluated the consistency of symptoms from different instruments that target similar content. Further, these methods allowed for the examination of the DSM-IV as a continuous index of ND, evaluation of the degree of heterogeneity in levels of ND within groups above and below diagnostic thresholds, and the utility of using the pattern or particular DSM-IV symptoms that led to each score in further differentiating levels of ND. Finally, we examined concurrent validity of the ND continuum and levels of current of smoking at each wave of assessment.