Road to Recovery – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Did your aunt have hip replacement surgery? You might say that she is “on the road to recovery” and getting better every day.

Keep reading to discover what this phrase means, how it originated, and how to add it to your vocabulary.


The idiom “on the the road to recovery” means that someone is (or a group of people are) getting better after suffering a misfortune.

The word “road” indicates that recovery is a journey that takes time. The person hasn’t yet made a full recovery, but is getting there.

People frequently use the expression “on the road to recovery” when talking about physical illness, but it may also refer to addiction or economic recovery.

Example Usage

Would you like to add the phrase “on the road to recovery” to your everyday lexicon? These example sentences help you understand its meaning better, and show you in which contexts people use the saying:

  • “Mary was in hospital for a month and a half after catching Covid-19, and even had to be on a respirator for a while. It was touch and go, and her doctors thought she might not make it. Mary is finally on the road to recovery now.”
  • “I have been sober for 19 years and I’m still on the road to recovery. You never stop being an alcoholic. Every day is a struggle, but it does get better.”
  • “The current recession has lasted almost a year, but economists say we are finally on the road to recovery. Let’s hope that means better living standards and more jobs.”


The word “recovery” has been in the English language since the 1300s. It comes from the Old French “recovrer,” meaning to regain one’s health. The Latin were “recuperare,” which translates to “recuperate” in English,  is also closely related.

The idea that recovering is a journey, a path, or a personal pilgrimage dates back to the 1830s. John Perceval, the son of an English Prime Minister, famously wrote about his journey back to reality after suffering a psychotic episode in this decade.

Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step movements did much to contribute to this imagery, and to link the phrase “road to recovery” to the battle against addiction. These movements, which invite addicts to take consecutive steps to make amends and better their lives, gained steam in the 1930s.

However, the phrase “road to recovery” isn’t exclusive to addicts or people with mental illnesses. Healing is always a process, especially after a prolonged or serious illness. Invoking images of roads to travel makes it clear that recovery takes time and effort.

You can say someone is “on the road to recovery” after a minor illness like a mild flu, but people typically use this expression when someone is healing from a life-threatening illness.

Phrases Similar to Road to Recovery

Is “road to recovery” not quite right for you? One of these health-related idioms may better meet your needs:

  • On the mend — an expression with the same meaning.
  • Battling [an illness] — someone trying their best to recover from an illness.
  • Under the weather — meaning someone with mild symptoms of illness, such as a cold.

Phrases Opposite to Road to Recovery

If someone has finished their road to recovery, you can say they have “made a full recovery.”

People who overcame a serious and life-threatening illness can also be said to have “survived [an illness, such as cancer].

What Is the Correct Saying?

The correct saying is “on the road to recovery.” It usually means someone is getting better after a long illness, but can also refer to addiction or the economy.

Ways People May Say Road to Recovery Incorrectly

The phrase “road to recovery” is metaphorical. As such, it would be incorrect to say someone in an ambulance on the way to the hospital is on the road to recovery.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Road to Recovery

You can say someone is “on the road to recovery” if they are getting better after a long illness but have not fully recovered yet. This saying paints recovery as a process that takes time.

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