Pyromania: Causes and Treatment


What Is Pyromania?

Some shorten it to “pyro”, while others call it “firebug”; what exactly is this condition? Pyromania is a serious mental health condition that involves interest or fascination with fire. Pyromania is often used interchangeably used with the terms, arson or fire-starting, however, they are entirely different. Pyromania is a psychiatric condition, while arson is a criminal act. Fire-starting may or may not be connected to a condition. Pyromania is characterized by intentionally, compulsively, and repetitively setting fires. Pyromaniacs feel unable to stop the behavior, as setting a fire releases inner tension or anxiety and gives sufferers a rush of pleasure or relief.

Symptoms of Pyromania

The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) files pyromania in the impulse-control, disruptive, and conduct disorders section. The main symptom of this condition is multiple episodes of deliberate and purposeful fire setting. People with pyromania experience tension and affective arousal before setting a fire. Here are some other symptoms of pyromania:

  • A fascination with fire that may manifest as an attraction to, interest in, or curiosity about fire
  • Having fun watching fires in the neighborhood, setting off false alarms about fire, or gaining pleasure from equipment, institutions, and personnel with fire
  • Spending time at a local fire department
  • A desire to be a firefighter
  • Experiencing gratification, pleasure, or relief when starting a fire, witnessing the effects, and being part of its aftermath
  • Making plans for setting fires.
  • Indifference to whether anyone is physically or financially harmed from the fire that they cause.

Note that these aren`t symptoms of pyromania:

  • Setting fires for monetary gain.
  • Setting fire to conceal criminal activity or gain vengeance.
  • Setting fire as a result of impaired judgment, hallucination, or an intellectual disability.
  • Setting fire due to the presence of another mental illness or disorder

Difference between Pyromaniacs and Arsonists

A pyromaniac might burn holes in rugs, fabric, and furniture, hoard lighters and matches,  or set fire to pieces of paper and other flammable materials. They are generally obsessed with setting fires.

Unlike arsonists, pyromaniacs don’t have a desire to harm anyone; they also aren’t interested in monetary gains from the fires they set. So an arsonist may burn down a house to receive insurance money or get a revenge, however, pyromaniacs are doing it purely for the emotional benefits they gain from it.

Causes of Pyromania

unhealthy looking manThere isn’t a single known cause of pyromania, however, research suggests that it may be genetic. Although there are no records of the number of people who have pyromania, studies estimate that it only affects a small portion of the population.

Some people have higher risks of suffering pyromania than others do. People with certain mental illnesses, those with bipolar disorder, a gambling disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and substance use disorder are all more likely to be pyromaniacs than the general population. The condition can affect people of any gender, however, it is most common in males. It also affects people of any age. Research shows that it’s more common in people who have learning disabilities or lack social skills. There are also some environmental factors that may lead to the condition. For instance, people who have been physically or sexually abused, those who have suffered parental neglect or abandonment, and people who have a history of crime are all likely to suffer pyromania. Studies show that over 19% of people diagnosed with pyromania has been charged with vandalism at least once, and about 18% of them have been found guilty of non-violent sexual offenses.

Pyromania and Genetics

Although there isn`t much research on this, the impulsivity that people with pyromania display is heritable. This applies to many other mental disorders with the impulsivity feature. Scientists say that dopamine and serotonin that are required for regulating impulse control can be influenced by the genes.

Pyromania in Children

There’s no particular age for the onset of pyromania. It can begin in childhood, but may not necessarily last into adulthood. The symptoms of pyromania in children may seem to get better sometimes then get triggered again. Family, friends, or teachers may be among the first people to recognize a child’s obsession with fire. Fire setting in adolescents is usually associated with ADHD, conduct disorder, or an adjustment disorder.

How to Diagnose Pyromania

Pyromania is rarely diagnosed, partly  because of the little research and strict diagnostic criteria. Sometimes pyromania is only diagnosed after a person goes in for treatment for a different condition, such as a depression or mood disorder.

To diagnose this condition, a mental health professional may do some findings on the patient’s personal history or symptoms.

Someone who is charged with arson may also be evaluated for pyromania, depending on their reasons for starting the fire.

Treatment for Pyromania 

hospitalImmediate treatment of suspected pyromania is essential to avoid further damage. The only way to treat this disorder, so far, is cognitive behavioral therapy, through sufferers learn to acknowledge the feelings of tension that can lead to setting fires and finding a safer way to release that tension.

Family members of pyromaniacs are advised to go for family counseling. Family therapy can help loved ones understand the disorder. They can also learn to keep safe.

So far, there is no medication for pyromania, however, there are proposed medical treatments such as the use of antiepileptic medications, SSRIs, anti-androgen, atypical antipsychotics, and lithium. 

Some Mental Health Facts

  • People who have experienced a major disaster are at higher risk of mental health disorders.
  • The belief that mental illness patients are usually violent is a myth, as only 3-5% of violent acts are attributed to people with severe mental illness.
  • Injury, genetics, illness, and traumatic life experiences are common causes of mental illness.
  • One in five Americans has experienced some form of mental illness.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the world.  
  • Suicide is the cause of over 800,000 deaths globally every year.
  • Only about 44% of adults with diagnosable mental illnesses receive treatment.
  • OTC medication, therapy, and yoga are some. Of the treatment option for mental health conditions.
  • One in 10 young people has experienced major depression.
  • LGBTQ people are twice as likely as straight people to suffer mental illnesses.
  • Mental illnesses can affect people of any race, religion, age, or social class.
  • Depression is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide.
  • Depression, anxiety, eating, and bipolar disorders are more prevalent among women, while men suffer drug use disorders and schizophrenia more than their female counterparts.
  • Getting immediate medical attention to trauma can prevent mental health disorders, especially in children and adolescents.
  • 50% of adults in the U.S. who have had a problem with substance abuse also suffer from mental illness.
  • About 152 million people are expected to suffer from some form of dementia by 2050.
  • Annual costs of dementia are expected to reach $2 trillion as early as 2030.
  • “Eco-anxiety” is fast affecting more people, and young people are particularly affected.
  • About 1 in 5 American adults have a diagnosable mental health condition every year.
  • 1 in 25 US adults has experienced severe mental illness.
  • 17% of children between ages 6 and 17 experience a mental health disorder
  • About 50% of the cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and 75% of them develop before the age of 25.
  • In 2019, 68% of the world’s population considered climate change to be a major threat. 
  • Diet has a major impact on mental health.
  • There is a strong correlation between social status and the development of common mental disorders.
  • About 8.9 million Latinx/Hispanic Americans have a mental illness.
  • About 2.2 million people in the Asian American/Pacific Islander communities have a mental illness.
  • 9.8 million US adults have had suicidal thoughts.
  • About 6.8 million African Americans have a mental illness.
  • 44 million US adults have a mental illness.

Now that you Know… 

If you think that you or someone you know is experiencing pyromania, or are have noticed  an unhealthy fascination with fire, please seek help immediately.