I'm looking for a single English word that refers to:

  • A person who has bad habits
  • And used to do those bad habits
  • Tried to escape them but then fell into them in perpetua

I'm not sure if such a word exists. I've thought of:

  • Hypocrite (but that doesn't contain any connotations of habit)
  • Habitual (an adjective; whereas I want a noun)

Any ideas? I'm pretty sure there's a word for a person who relapsed back into their bad habits.


7 Answers 7


Perhaps relapser.

n. One who relapses, as into vice or error.

It is usually related with illnesses but it is also used for people who relapses back into addictions. There is a term called "chronic relapser" for these kind of addicts as well.

From Addiction Professional magazine:

Numerous failed attempts at sobriety, or a return to drugs/alcohol after a substantial period of sobriety.

While this is a simple and obvious criterion of a chronic relapser, the distinction of an individual who has attempted sobriety and failed is important.

Many addicts have a lifetime of drug and alcohol abuse but have never actually attempted to get sober. What makes chronic relapsers distinct is that they have tried and failed.

  • I was tempted by that one, too. But, I couldn't find it in any reputable dictionaries.
    – David M
    Mar 19, 2014 at 0:41
  • I was tempted first also but then I read about chronic relapsers and it perfectly fits. Also the verb "relapse" means to fall back into bad habits.
    – ermanen
    Mar 19, 2014 at 0:50
  • 3
    This is actually something that people will easily understand from the word itself, which works very well for my needs. +1
    – ashes999
    Mar 19, 2014 at 12:57

A recidivist is someone who has a relapse into a habit such as substance abuse or criminality.

It does not inherently imply a will to escape the bad behavior, but it does imply that some bad effects have been experienced as a result of their actions (such as jail time).

Examples of use with respect to gambling here and here.

With respect to smoking here and here.

There are many examples with respect to drugs and criminal behavior, but those two tend to get mixed up since much such substance abuse is illegal.

  • I think "recidivism" is a more encompassing word than a "recidivist". Recidivist is mostly used related to criminals. Though there is "recidivist drink driver" term that is mainly used in Australia and New Zealand, I suppose.
    – ermanen
    Mar 19, 2014 at 1:37
  • Is this actually a commonly used term? It seems a bit archaic.
    – ashes999
    Mar 19, 2014 at 1:43
  • @ashes999 Yes, its a commonly used term (at least recidivism is). I've added links to examples that are not connected to criminality. Mar 19, 2014 at 2:35
  • @ashes999 This is used in the US as almost the standard word for this concept AFAIK.
    – d'alar'cop
    Mar 19, 2014 at 3:28
  • Okay, I appreciate the help. I feel that for my target audience, this word may be less easily understood than relapser, so I chose that as the final answer.
    – ashes999
    Mar 19, 2014 at 12:57

At one time backslide, backsliding, backslider were quite common:

Ngram: backslider,relapser, recidivist

The primary sense was from the outset religious—“apostate”— (see various translations of chapter 14, verse 14 of the Book of Proverbs, including the King James translation, but it has long been used for return to less specifically theological misfeasances, as in this from The Bristol Temperance Herald for January, 1855:

Temperance backsliders

And it's still current; you don't get much hipper than Seinfeld, when Elaine 'bumps into' her ex-boyfriend:

PUDDY: Hey Benes, How are you?
ELAINE: I’m doing great.
PUDDY: Great. (pauses) See ya.
JERRY: Well, that’s it. You two are back together.
JERRY: The bump into. The bump into always leads to the backslide.
ELAINE: David and I will not be getting back together.
JERRY: Elaine, breaking up is like knocking over a coke machine. You can’t do it in one push, you got to rock it back and forth a few times, and then it goes over.
GEORGE: That’s beautiful.
ELAINE: What about you? You were even engaged, and you cut it off just like that.
JERRY: That’s different. I didn’t have feelings for those people. But you, you’ll backslide

  • 1
    It doesn't seem like backslider is a real word, though.
    – ashes999
    Mar 19, 2014 at 12:56
  • 1
    @ashes999 Sure it is - just Google it. You'll find it all over descriptions of drug rehabilitation programs, for example. I used Seinfeld only because it's such a different register. Mar 19, 2014 at 13:19

You can call them the relapsed.

For example:

There is little help available for the relapsed (heroin addict).

This is similar to calling them the fallen. Which might be a bit poetic for your use, but it would work, as well.

  • 1
    True, although this refers to a group, not a singular.
    – ashes999
    Mar 19, 2014 at 12:56
  • @ashes999 without a modifier, yes. If you add the modifier -heroin addict, it becomes a singular.
    – David M
    Mar 19, 2014 at 13:05
  • Nice try, but I'm looking for a single word :)
    – ashes999
    Mar 19, 2014 at 13:10
  • @ashes999 they can't all be winners. ;-)
    – David M
    Mar 19, 2014 at 13:23

I think the other answers are right but I think the word is simply an addict.

  • 3
    An addict doesn't necessarily want to break his/her unhealthy habit or vice. They can be in self-denial about their addiction, or simply prefer to continue.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 19, 2014 at 7:12
  • @Mari-Lou As much as it pains me to agree with my frenemy Ryebread: iaddicts don't have to quit to be called addicts. But, statistically once they do quit, they will relapse at some point. I don't think it's a perfect fit, but belongs on the list of synonyms.
    – David M
    Mar 19, 2014 at 13:28
  • @DavidM the question specifies a person who tries to quit but succumbs to the bad habit(s). The word, addict, does not convey this. A smoker can be unrepentant, and be perfectly content to continue with his/her "vice".
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 19, 2014 at 13:36
  • @Mari-LouA I don't disagree with you. I'm just saying that they are all addicts. Hence, it can be used as a descriptor. It's just not narrow enough to be the accepted answer. (Hence, a synonym to it.)
    – David M
    Mar 19, 2014 at 13:39
  • @Mari-LouA - Given the criteria addict is the most common term. The pure definition doesn't mean a person who wants to quit their bad habit but that is the connotation of the word. Mar 19, 2014 at 13:39

Degenerate as a noun.

He is pretty scruffy, even for a degenerate.


I think the word "incorrigible" works fairly well.

  • It's not a noun. See my list of requirements.
    – ashes999
    Mar 19, 2014 at 12:55

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