I'm describing what an opiate addict looks like before recovery. Instead of saying "he looked like a vampire," I'd like to say something like "he looked [vampiric]."

I actually just found out vampiric was a word, but I want something that sounds better (more colloquial/natural, I suppose) and covers a variety of traits (pale, emaciated, sickly, etc).


Why I don’t just use "vampiric":

  1. As @chepner commented:

    I think the idea is to find a word that isn't so "circular", and doesn't refer explicitly to vampires or require knowledge of vampires in context. If someone were to ask "What does a vampire look like?", then "It looks vampiric/vampirish" wouldn't be terribly helpful.

  2. I don’t want to explicitly refer to drug addicts as vampires. I just want to capture those traits in the best way.

  • 3
    Why would a question with over a dozen answers, over 200 answer upvotes and over 2 dozen upvotes be sent back for more research 4 years after it was posted?
    – jimm101
    Commented Apr 13, 2023 at 0:12

13 Answers 13


I'd suggest cadaverous. It incorporates many facets of what I believe you're trying to convey: a corpse-like appearance, including pallid and underweight.

From Merriam-Webster.com:

1a : of or relating to a corpse b : suggestive of corpses or tombs

2a : PALLID, LIVID b : GAUNT, EMACIATED grossly underweight


For something often used to describe people and not an analogy like ghoulish or vampiric or cadaverous:

pallid - very pale, in a way that looks unhealthy and not attractive

  • I wouldn't call this pallid. The origin of Vampire legends is most likely a disease called prophyra. Good images are hard to find but this site has some. ippn.info
    – Joshua
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 19:09
  • 1
    I like this except it doesn't incorporate the notion of death. Thanks for your answer though, it's still a really good one.
    – njboot
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 20:22

"Vampiric" is the actual adjective to describe something (or someone) like a vampire.

According to the Collins English Dictionary, as quoted in the Dictionary.com entry for vampiric:

Derived Forms

vampiric ( væmˈpɪrɪk ) or vampirish , adjective

  • 4
    If I was told that someone was "vampiric", I wouldn't assume they looked pallid, I would assume they drank blood.
    – neminem
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 17:10
  • 1
    If you were told they looked vampiric though there would be no problem right? Appearance is that the asker is looking for
    – Eric Nolan
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 10:00
  • 2
    @EricNolan If I was told somebody looked "vampiric", at most I'd assume they have long canine teeth. For non-physical features, they might be dressed like Bella Lugosi in Dracula - so, capes with high collars and old timey clothes.
    – VLAZ
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 13:44
  • @vlaz but you wouldn't assume they drank blood. You would assume they looked like a vampire, perhaps the Hammer Horror kind. This is the question that was asked.
    – Eric Nolan
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 14:46
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    @EricNolan not exactly. The problem is that OP has one set of assumptions of what a vampire looks like and "long fangs for drinking blood" is not among them. Nor is "old fashioned clothes". The question asks for "vampiric looking" but actually means something different, OP wants to describe a set of traits some vampires posses by using the descriptor for any vampire which ends up confusing to say the least.
    – VLAZ
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 14:59

gaunt - extremely thin and bony; haggard and drawn, as from great hunger, weariness, or torture; emaciated.


This more emphasises the skinny and haggard nature of their appearance - rather than the pale or sickliness - so you could combine two adjectives, like:

He looked pale and gaunt.

His gaunt and sickly appearance.


If you wish to use an evocative adjective, it could be ghoulish.

Webster's 1913 Dictionary does think that it is synonym to "vampirelike", but it has a broader meaning:

Characteristic of a ghoul; vampirelike; hyenalike.

The meaning of ghoul (originally a flesh-eating ghost of Arab tales) would be:

In popular folklore, an undead or subhuman being, especially one that eats human flesh.

(American Heritage)

Ghoulish is often used in a figurative way, to express the morbid interest of a person for the death of other human beings. But in a proper sense, it would evoke the aspect of a ghoul. Since this word conjures both ideas at the same time, it may or may not be what you are looking for.

  • Some of the words in your text are themselves possible choices: Morbid, or undead. Then perhaps moribund. (Being close to dying usually involves bad nutrition and circulation and hence the person would be gaunt and pale.) Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 11:49

The adjectives ashen and ashen-faced (they basically mean the same thing) are used to describe a person who looks unhealthily pale (their skin is slightly grayish in colour) because they are ill or in a state of shock (I guess, a person can naturally look ashen sometimes). The adjective ashen is closely connected with the word ashes. Ashes are the gray powdery substance that is left after you burn something. Here's how the Collins English Dictionary defines this term:

Someone who is ashen looks very pale, especially because they are ill, shocked, or frightened.

Example sentence (one of the two example sentences for ashen in the Cambridge Dictionary):

She was thin and her face was ashen.

Here's a picture of a woman with an ashen face (kind of, looks like a vampire if you ask me):



Such a person is wan:

1a : suggestive of poor health : SICKLY, PALLID
b : lacking vitality : FEEBLE


It goes beyond just pale to describe the haggard, sickly appearance and behavior you want to describe.


Deathly's not bad:

resembling or suggestive of death - his face was deathly pale


People who dress in the aesthetic of the goth subculture would likely be pleased to be deemed they look like a vampire. To your more detailed case to describe drug addicts, my sense is it may fit to some but not all addicts; for the ones that it doesn't really describe there is heroin chic.


I like Etiolated as a metaphorical adjective (describes a person as if they were a plant):


(of a plant) pale and drawn out due to a lack of light.



It means ‘like a vampire’.

You can say ‘he looked vampirical’.

It means ‘having the traits of a vampire’ or ‘like a vampire’, per the Wiktionary.com entry for the word.

  • "vampirical" is an inventional word that you just maded up
    – Aaron F
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 10:29
  • 7
    @AaronF Um. The answer links to a citation. Even if you belieferize that Wiktionary is the dictionarism that anyone can use to inventionate words, the linkinated page has decadinous agehood. And the OED has a citation from 1969. Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 11:12
  • @DavidRicherby love your comment! Unfortunately I don't have an OED subscription and can only view their free dictionary. You're right: I am of the belief that Wiktionary is as authoritative as Urban Dictionary, also that Mirriam Webster is a made-up book of misspellings, and my comments reflect my (overly) strong and outdated views. I blame my encylopædia-editing parents... :-(
    – Aaron F
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 12:06



  • relating to or of the nature of consumption.
  • disposed to or affected with consumption.

Originally referring to tuberculosis, it can broadly suggest "progressive wasting of the body". Although this use would be more about the process than its outward appearance, 'consumptive' does imply the changes in the body that the consumption—i.e. rotting, rendering, expending, decomposing—gives rise to.

Moreover, there is an additional interesting parallel between the disease and its apparent symptoms. During especially Victorian times, there was a kind of "consumptive chic". The following is taken from a Smithsonian article (my emphases):

Among the upper class, one of the ways people judged a woman’s predisposition to tuberculosis was by her attractiveness, [Caroline Day] says. “That’s because tuberculosis enhances those things that are already established as beautiful in women,” she explains, such as the thinness and pale skin that result from weight loss and the lack of appetite caused by the disease.

A considerable number of patients have, and have had for years previous to their sickness, a delicate, transparent skin, as well as fine, silky hair.Sparkling or dilated eyes, rosy cheeks and red lips were also common in tuberculosis patients—characteristics now known to be caused by frequent low-grade fever.

Doesn't that sound classically vampiric?


There is always the tried and true "strung-out" or "cadaverous" or "corpselike" i like "he had the look of a worn and deflated pillowcase in need of a wash"

  • What does it mean for a pillowcase to be "deflated"? Also, a pillowcase that looks like it needs a wash is probably less white than normal; vampires are the exact opposite. Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 11:17
  • 3
    "strung out" has a strong connotation of hard drug abuse. Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 22:35

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