Few studies of the relation of alcohol intake to lower-extremity arterial disease (LEAD) have included clinical events and objective measurements repeated longitudinally. As part of the Cardiovascular Health Study, a study of older adults from four US communities, 5,635 participants reported their use of beer, wine, and spirits yearly. Incident LEAD was identified by hospitalization surveillance. Technicians measured ankle-brachial index 6 years apart in 2,298 participants. A total of 172 cases of LEAD were documented during a mean of 7.5 years of follow-up between 1989 and 1999. Compared with abstention, the multivariable-adjusted hazard ratios were 1.10 (95% confidence interval (CI): 0.71, 1.71) for <1 alcoholic drink per week, 0.56 (95% CI: 0.33, 0.95) for 1-13 drinks per week, and 1.02 (95% CI: 0.53, 1.97) for > or =14 drinks per week (p for quadratic trend = 0.04). These relations were consistent within strata of sex, age, and apolipoprotein E genotype, and neither lipids nor inflammatory markers appeared to be important intermediates. Change in ankle-brachial index showed a similar relation (p for quadratic trend = 0.01). Alcohol consumption of 1-13 drinks per week in older adults may be associated with lower risk of LEAD, but heavier drinking is not associated with lower risk.