Aim Alcohol is a known cardiac toxin and heavy consumption can lead to heart failure (HF). However, the relationship between moderate alcohol consumption and risk for HF, in either men or women, remains unclear. Methods and results We examined 14 629 participants of the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study (54 ± 6 years, 55% women) without prevalent HF at baseline (1987-89) who were followed for 24 ± 1 years. Self-reported alcohol consumption was assessed as the number of drinks/week (1 drink = 14 g of alcohol) at baseline, and updated cumulative average alcohol intake was calculated over 8.9 ± 0.3 years. Using multivariable Cox proportional hazards models, we examined the relation of alcohol intake with incident HF and assessed whether associations were modified by sex. Overall, most participants were abstainers (42%) or former drinkers (19%), with 25% reporting up to 7 drinks per week, 8% reporting ≥7 to 14 drinks per week, and 3% reporting ≥14-21 and ≥21 drinks per week, respectively. Incident HF occurred in 1271 men and 1237 women. Men consuming up to 7 drinks/week had reduced risk of HF relative to abstainers (hazard ratio, HR 0.80, 95% CI 0.68-0.94, P = 0.006); this effect was less robust in women (HR 0.84, 95% CI 0.71-1.00, P = 0.05). In the higher drinking categories, the risk of HF was not significantly different from abstainers, either in men or in women. Conclusion In the community, alcohol consumption of up to 7 drinks/week at early-middle age is associated with lower risk for future HF, with a similar but less definite association in women than in men. These findings suggest that despite the dangers of heavy drinking, modest alcohol consumption in early-middle age may be associated with a lower risk for HF.