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Addiction is defined as a high dependence on something, to the point where it could be harmful to you or to others. It could be to a substance – food, alcohol or other recreational drugs – or to a behaviour – such as shopping, gambling or sex.

When the need for the substance or behaviour starts affecting normal life – perhaps causing someone to become secretive or to arrange their lives around meeting this need – people may be regarded as having an addiction, or to be dependent on the behaviour or substance.

There is no single reason why someone develops a dependency, but some people deal with stress or difficulties by turning to mood-altering substances and behaviours. These might seem to solve their immediate problems, but in fact the problem still exists and the dependency is preventing them from dealing with the problem. In the long run, this can cause more problems, and may lead to someone’s life becoming out of control.

It is possible to have either a physiological addiction to or a psychological dependence on something, or for both to exist together.

It is generally agreed that, for someone to deal with an addiction, they need to recognise the problem and want to stop. There are a number of treatments that work well for addiction – generally psychological therapies. However, sometimes these will need to be combined with medication, especially if an addictive substance has changed the body’s physiology, such as opiates.

Try to cut back on your drug and alcohol use slowly and gradually. Monitoring how much you use will help you judge how you are doing on reducing or giving up these substances. You may need medical help to stop using alcohol or some drugs (such as GBL, or gamma-butyrolactone) safely. If you use these daily and would like to stop, talk to your healthcare team about how to go about this. (It can be dangerous in some situations to stop drinking or using the drug altogether without medical supervision.) Your HIV clinic staff can give advice or help; they won’t judge you.

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