Early alcohol use initiation has been linked with exposure to community violence, but the direction of these associations and the roles of witnessing violence vs. victimization are not clear. This study used a cross-lagged structural equation model to examine the prospective relationships between alcohol use initiation and witnessing community violence and victimization in early adolescence. A sample of 603 boys and girls provided two waves of data 16 months apart. After controlling for continuity in alcohol use and violence exposure, early initiation of alcohol use predicted later victimization in the community. Witnessing community violence increased and victimization decreased the risk of subsequent alcohol use. Prevention programs targeting early alcohol initiation may result in decreased victimization, while interventions addressing constructive ways of coping with witnessing community violence may also reduce early adolescents' alcohol use. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.