What is pyromania, causes and treatment

Basil Manning
What is pyromania, causes and treatment

Pyromania is a very rare impulse control disorder characterized by the recurrent compulsion to start fires. The term refers solely to the setting of fires for personal satisfaction or other gratification provided by the fire itself, not for profit or revenge.


  • What is pyromania
  • Signs and symptoms of pyromania
  • Causes of pyromania
  • Pyromania in children
  • Treatment of pyromania
    • References

What is pyromania?

Pyromania is a type of impulse control disorder, along with kleptomania, problem gambling, trichotillomania, and others..

The term pyromania comes from the Greek word pyr, fire. Pyromania is different from deliberate or arson for personal, monetary, or political purposes. Arsonists start fires in order to relieve tension or for the feeling of instant euphoria that the fire provokes in them.

People with pyromania are deeply fascinated by fire and everything that surrounds it. They are unable to stop their urge to start fires, engage in other fire-related activities, and experience feelings of satisfaction or release from accumulated inner tension and anxiety once the fire starts.

Pyromania is usually a symptom of underlying psychopathology, often associated with aggressive behaviors.

Signs and symptoms of pyromania

In the latest edition of the DSM-V Diagnostic Manual, pyromania is included in the Disruptive, Impulse Control, and Behavioral Disorders section. The essential characteristic of pyromania is the presence of multiple episodes of intentional and deliberate fire..

Symptoms include a strong attraction to fire, intentionally starting more than one fire, feeling excited or tense just before starting a fire, and feeling relief or pleasure after the fire. Other symptoms can include:

  • Fascination with fire, including great interest, curiosity and attraction to everything related to it.
  • Pleasure in seeing fires, activating false alarms, or enjoying being in institutions with fire-related equipment and personnel.
  • Start fires and then collaborate with the fire department or become a firefighter.
  • Experience pleasure, gratification, or relief from starting a fire, stay to witness the effects, and participate in the aftermath.

As we have already said, arsonists do not start fires for monetary gain. Nor are they trying to hide criminal activity, get revenge, or improve their living situation. Symptoms cannot be in response to delusions or hallucinations either..

People with pyromania can prepare in advance to start fires as effectively as possible. They are usually indifferent to whether someone is physically or financially damaged, they can even take pleasure from the destruction they cause, even if this was not their true initial intention.

Other signs of pyromania include an obsession with always having matches and lighters on hand. Burning fabrics and carpets, and burning paper or other flammable materials whenever they can.

Adolescents with pyromania fall into five general subcategories:

  • Those who light fires to win the approval of antisocial adults in their lives.
  • Those who show other types of delinquent and aggressive behavior.
  • Those with cognitive impairment (often from a neurological or medical disorder).
  • Those with other major diagnosed disorders such as paranoia, psychosis and sometimes even suicidal
  • Those who cry out for care and help in a dysfunctional way.

Causes of pyromania

There is a wide variety of causes of this disorder, the most common can be divided into two main types or groups: individual and environmental. This includes factors such as individual temperament, parental psychopathology, and possible neurochemical predispositions. Many studies have shown that pyromania patients were in homes without a father figure present..

It is not known exactly how many people suffer from pyromania. However, researchers estimate that it only affects a very small portion of the population of less than 1%..

When the researchers examined individuals in the criminal system who had exhibited repeated fire-provoking behaviors, they found that only 3.3% of that population actually met the full criteria for this disorder..

People with other concomitant mental illnesses have a higher risk than the general population of presenting this type of behavior. Individuals with bipolar disorder, substance abuse, problem gambling, or antisocial personality disorder may be more likely to be arsonists.

The condition appears in both men and women, although it is significantly more common in men, and in people of any age, even after 3 years.

It is more common in people who have learning disabilities or lack social skills, although there are numerous environmental factors at play.

Pyromania has also been associated with people who have been victims of sexual or physical abuse, or who are neglected or neglected by their parents. Subjects who have a prior history of crime also tend to show more tendencies toward setting fires. For example, more than 19% of those diagnosed with pyromania have been accused of vandalism at least once, and about 18% have been found guilty of non-violent sexual crimes..

Pyromania in children

Most of the studied cases of pyromania occur in children and adolescents.

The setting of a deliberate fire is a major problem among the very young. Many of the people arrested for arson are under the age of 18. However, few of these young people meet the exclusive criteria for pyromania..

There is no typical age of onset for pyromania. It can be identified during childhood, but it is unclear if pyromania persists into adulthood.

Fire-setting behaviors often come and go, so a child exhibiting symptoms of pyromania may improve over time before starting an intentional fire again.

Arson setting in teens is often associated with conduct disorder, ADHD, or adjustment disorder.

Treatment of pyromania

Early detection of suspected pyromania is key to avoiding the risk of injury, property damage, jail time, or even death. The most widely used method of treatment for pyromania is cognitive-behavioral therapy, as it teaches the person to recognize the feelings of tension that can lead to setting fires and find a safer way to release such anxiety.

Family members who are concerned about someone who seems obsessed with fire could benefit from family counseling. Family therapy can help the constituents understand the disorder while teaching them how to keep the family safe..


Grant JE, Won KS. Clinical characteristics and psychiatric comorbidity of pyromania. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 2007; 68 (11): 1717-1722.

Bevilacqua L, Goldman D. Genetics of impulsive behavior. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. April 5, 2013 (published online February 25, 2013); 368 (1615).

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