Abstract The meanings of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practices in the everyday lives of people with HIV in the United States were investigated. Interviews of people with HIV revealed that two out of three interviewees (N = 62) used some form of CAM over the course of their ongoing HIV infection. Management of their everyday lives as ill persons was improved to the extent that CAM meanings addressed self-regulation of treatment practices and strategies to cope with uncertainty. Four main strategies are dealt with: managing symptoms, medications and emotions; self experimenting to evaluate disease progression; gaining freedom from medical regimens; and managing AIDS stigma. It was shown that CAM practices are one way people with HIV can increase control over their illness and attempt to normalise health status. CAM practices were discussed in the context of self-regulation in relation to other illnesses.