Sober Grocery Shopping (Without the Anxiety)

sober grocery shopping aisle anxiety

Sober Grocery Shopping – imagine this… You have been having a great day. You didn’t hit traffic that made you want to roll down the windows and scream. Your boss was pleasant this morning. You even planned a special meal the kids can eat for dinner – Zucchini Raviolis. (Yes, sometimes they can be tricked into eating vegetables.) You’re halfway home and a thought hits you – your spouse ate the last egg for breakfast. You make a hasty right and head toward the grocery store. But, the truth is you’re afraid. Very afraid.


Sober Grocery Shopping (at Sanford and beyond)

A trip to the grocery store shouldn’t seem like a scary experience – but it can be for someone recovering from a substance use disorder (SUD). As human beings, we HAVE to eat. So this means we must go places where they sell food. Taking a different route home to avoid the liquor store on the corner is manageable, but walking past the liquor aisle at the local grocery is often unavoidable.


Luckily, there are some tried-and-true guidelines those in recovery can follow. Facing the weekly shopping trip or making that last minute pit stop to the grocery store can be manageable. Just follow my Sanford Sober Grocery Shopping Advice and relax.


sober grocery shopping

Sanford House Chef Mackenzie practicing what she preaches…


  1. Use the sober shopping buddy system

Take someone else shopping with you if possible. Ask a friend or family member who has been helpful throughout your recovery. No – you don’t need a babysitter – just support. Those who have not experienced addiction can’t understand how much those who are struggling are affected by their drink or drug of choice. A client once explained this feeling to me as an “out of body” experience. Logically, she knew that drinking would have negative consequences, but seeing alcohol at the store still drew her in. That’s why she talked to her sister and they began doing their shopping together. This was the grounding and support she needed to stay sober. Having someone there to keep you “in your body” is both normal and necessary for some people in recovery. 


  1. Indulge in an alternative  

It’s okay to treat yourself, in moderation. Speaking of Oreo cookies, I am a nutritional specialist at Sanford, but I do indulge in a serving (or 4) every now and then.  We all deserve to gift ourselves with a treat occasionally – especially if it’s a choice between a treat and being tempted to use. 


sober grocery shopping treats smiling cookies


It is helpful to change your thought process here. Tell yourself that instead of using as you did in the past, your special treat is going to be a little bag of your favorite candy (or maybe something healthier, like your favorite berries that are on sale this week). Sometimes, making it through the grocery store while fighting cravings and triggers feels like winning a marathon! And like winning a marathon – it is a huge accomplishment. So go ahead – treat yourself! 


  1. Put money on your mind

When you’re at the grocery store, thinking through the reasons you shouldn’t use addictive substances again – be sure to put cost on the list. Alcohol is expensive! No matter where a person is financially, one thing I believe we all have in common is that we don’t like to waste money. That’s why it can be helpful to reflect on how much money you are saving by not buying alcohol at the store anymore. When you find yourself being tempted toward that aisle, remember you can put extra cash toward a weekend away with your friends or that massage you’ve needed for months. 


  1. Push play while sober grocery shopping …

Play the tape. Those who are recovering from a SUD are often told to “play the tape” when they are thinking about drinking or using. This means to think things through to their inevitable end before taking action. A past Sanford client once told me, “I know that if I drink I will spin out of control. I will drink and drive. I will get hurt or worse, disappoint my family. And then I will be back in the same spot – a spot I don’t want to ever be in again.” 


When you are at the store and you find yourself having thoughts of putting alcohol in your cart, play your tape over and over and over in your head until you reach a safe mental space. 


sober grocery shopping isles


  1. Don’t enter without a list 

It seems like common sense to go into the grocery store with a plan, but when you’re having a busy day/week/year it can be difficult to do. Scribbling down a list before entering the store might seem like a waste of time, but it can help you stay on track. And it will limit the time you’re exposed to your triggers.


Making lists when I shop for Sanford has helped me learn to love grocery shopping. I feel so accomplished when I have finally checked everything off my list. I even crumple up the paper when I am done and toss it in the trash – feeling like Michael Jordan (though most times I miss and pick it up in hopes that no one saw me). 


At some point, we all have to visit the grocery store. Shopping, cooking, and eating are parts of life. But, they don’t have to be scary! Great ways to avoid cravings and triggers include preparing yourself mentally, bringing a list and a friend, and congratulating yourself with a treat here and there. You have made it this far! 



women holding knife

House Chef Mackenzie is responsible for all aspects of nutrition and wellness programming at Sanford. Her smiling face is a bonus to the delicious food she provides. Her groups on nutrition, exercise and wellness are some of our clients' favorites. Mackenzie has her Culinary Degree from Secchia Institute for Culinary Education. She also has a certificate in Hospitality Management. And was awarded 2019 Junior Culinarian of the Year from the American Culinary Federation. Mackenzie writes about all aspects of wellness, nutrition and the importance of eating healthily in early recovery. In her free time, Mackenzie coaches Special Olympics. She is also Marketing Chair on the board of directors of the American Culinary Federation of Grand Rapids.