We're already into the silly season, it seems, and with that comes rounds of functions and parties.

It can seem like almost every night something is on - and that almost inevitably means we drink more alcohol.

I've been accused of being the fun police on this topic before.

I'll put my hand up right now and say I enjoy a glass of wine or two. I'm not a teetotaller advocating complete abstinence, although if you do practise this, good on you. Read on and congratulate yourself.


However, I like to call myself a conscious drinker. That means I drink my wine with total understanding of the potential harm it's doing and moderate my intake with that in mind.

The harms of alcohol are, of course, well-documented.

They're also routinely downplayed in the media and ignored by most of us who drink.

Alcohol is a very common blind spot when it comes to health.

Just ask staff working in hospital emergency departments, who see the effects of alcohol every day.

In fact a new study of acutely injured patients presenting at Auckland City Hospital Adult Emergency Department (ED) has found over a fifth are affected by alcohol.

Twenty-one per cent of acutely injured patients reported consumption of alcohol in the six hours prior to their injury.

The median amount of alcohol consumed corresponded to 6.4 standard drinks. Six drinks qualify as a binge and is classified as a "potentially hazardous" drinking pattern.

The study also found 69 per cent of patients intentionally injured by another person had been drinking in the six hours before their injury.

Aside from injury, we know alcohol consumption is an important risk factor for more than 60 different disorders, and is a known cause of six different cancers.

Alcohol is a Group 1 carcinogen, the same as tobacco and asbestos.

I've said it before but I'll say it again: if we treated alcohol as we do other carcinogens, in terms of lowering our exposure to risk, we'd have no more than two drinks a year.

That tends to make a room go quiet when I mention it in a talk.

So what does this mean, then, for those of us who do drink, when we're at the Christmas party?

It just means trying to be conscious of our behaviour.

I've found the first drink at a party can go down quickly. We're thirsty or stressed or nervous or excited and we hardly even notice drinking it.

It's often the default behaviour to take a drink as soon we walk in the door at an event.

But if that first drink isn't alcohol, it slows down the pace of our drinking.

Have a wine next, or with the meal. Eating also slows us down.

Any time we can be conscious about alcohol it's a good thing, because it'll mean we're more likely to be drinking at low-risk levels.

Look those up at alcohol.org.nz - they may prove sobering.

Niki Bezzant is editor in chief of Healthy Food Guide.