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Early onset of alcohol use is associated with a host of detrimental outcomes. As such, understanding the complex etiology of early onset alcohol use for prevention purposes is an important goal. Specific environmental stressors within the family (i.e., financial stress, negative parental well-being and negative family climate) heighten the risk of early onset alcohol use; however, the extent to which these factors are set in motion by prior maternal history of alcohol misuse has yet to be investigated. We used prospective, longitudinal data from 385 mother–child dyads to examine the link between a maternal alcohol use disorder and her child’s early onset of alcohol use through the sequelae of maternal financial strain, maternal depressive symptoms, maternal excessive alcohol use, and negative family climate. Results indicate that a maternal alcohol use disorder itself, and the confluence of a maternal alcohol use disorder, subsequent financial strain, and depressive symptoms produce a negative family climate. In turn, a negative family climate increases the likelihood of alcohol use by the age of 15 among offspring. Moreover, we demonstrate that the cascade of consequences on maternal and family functioning linking a maternal alcohol use disorder to her child’s early onset of alcohol use is proximal in nature, unfolding concurrently rather than in yearly spans of time. We discuss the implications of these findings with respect to the etiology of early onset alcohol use (and extant theoretical models) and prevention programming.