Doctor Vikatan : Sniffing Kerosene, Paint - Harmless Habit or Hidden Addiction? - Expert Explains

Does someone you know obsess over unusual smells like kerosene & paint? Learn the difference between innocent fascination and dangerous addiction. Know the signs and when to seek help.
smellImage by Joseph Mucira from Pixabay

A concerned reader has asked if his friend's unusual preference for the scents of kerosene, paint, glue, and earth could be a sign of underlying mental illness. He mentioned that his friend enjoys these scents so much that he won't leave the spot if he can sniff them.

Dr. Mithun Prasad, a dynamic and inquisitive psychiatrist practicing at SIMS Hospital in Chennai, has addressed this curious and concerned friend's question.

Dr. Mithun Prasad
Dr. Mithun Prasad
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Addiction Versus Mere Liking

There are two perspectives to consider in this matter. For instance, if a person simply enjoys the earthy smell of rain, it's unlikely to become an addiction. Similarly, some individuals may like the scents of kerosene and paint in the same way they appreciate the smell of earth after rainfall.

However, some people develop habits of sniffing solvents, glue, nail polish remover, etc. Some even go to the extent of dipping handkerchiefs in kerosene and sniffing the scent all day or heating glue on aluminum foil and inhaling the smoke. Like smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, this behavior can indicate addiction.

Children Engaging in Substance Abuse

Children as young as 13 or 14 may borrow money from their parents to purchase stationery items, unaware of the alarming number of empty glue bottles accumulating in their homes. Parents often become aware of their addiction only when they notice glue stains on their clothes or handkerchiefs.


When Does It Become a Real Problem?

In the case of your friend, it doesn't seem to be an addiction if they simply enjoy the scent of petrol at a gas station or linger in the aroma of a freshly painted house. However, it becomes a concern if they start pouring kerosene or paint onto a handkerchief and inhaling it regularly, which qualifies as substance abuse.


Excessive behavior beyond necessity can lead to addiction, but it's essential to address the issue through counseling and medical treatment. Therefore, there's no need to label your friend as mentally ill for having a preference for unique, strong scents.

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Doctor Profile:

Dr.Mithun Prasad is a dynamic and inquisitive psychiatrist practicing in SIMS Hospital, Vadapalani. He believes in spending quality time with the patient and family in listening patiently to their problems/concerns and trying to offer solutions through holistic management and comprehensive patient care in the form of counselling/psychotherapy and appropriate medications if need be. He is passionate about providing Cognitive Behavioural therapy (CBT) and Cognitive Remediation therapy (CRT) for appropriate conditions. He is the recipient of Dr. D.S. Raju memorial award at the 51 st Annual conference of Indian Psychiatric society – South zonal branch and Prof (Dr). V.Balan award at the 33rd Annual conference of

Indian Psychiatric society – Tamilnadu chapter for his work on Cognitive remediation therapy (CRT) with schizophrenic individuals. His major areas of interest are: depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, addiction/substance use, behavioural problems, general adult psychiatry, consultation liaison psychiatry, neuropsychiatry, child and adolescent/teen psychiatry, memory disorders dementia, sexual medicine, marital conflicts, school refusal and geriatric psychiatry. He's undergone training in Non Invasive Brain Stimulation Techniques, Addiction Medicine and Child/Adolescent Psychiatry at National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore


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