Previous cross-sectional and longitudinal studies assessing the association between age and drinking are inconsistent. Evaluating 15,425 Black and White men and women from four communities, this study sought to determine whether there was a consistent relation between age and drinking in cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses and to determine change in drinking status and level of consumption (occasional, light to moderate, and heavier drinkers) at follow-up. Cross-sectional analyses of drinking were performed for Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities examinations 1 (1987-1989) and 3 (1993-1995). The changes in drinking status and level were determined for the 12,565 persons with information at both examinations. Prevalence of drinking was generally inversely associated with age in the cross-sectional analyses for all ethnic/gender groups, and drinking prevalence decreased over the 6 years of follow-up for all except Black women. Only among Black drinkers was younger age associated with a higher level of alcohol consumption in both cross-sectional and prospective analyses. Thus, whether drinking prevalence declines, the amount consumed by drinkers is decreased, or whether both factors contribute to the decrease appears to vary with ethnicity and gender. The change in drinking level was substantial with more than 40% of baseline drinkers reporting drinking cessation or a different level of consumption at follow-up.