Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Pyromania

Pyromania is a rare, pathological disorder characterized by intentional and repeated fire setting. People with pyromania are deeply fascinated by fire and related paraphernalia. They may experience feelings of satisfaction or a release of built-up inner tension or anxiety once a fire is set.

Symptoms

Pyromania can affect adolescents and adults, and is more common in males than in females—though it can occur in both. It is also especially common in people with learning disabilities and those who lack social skills.

According to the DSM-5, the diagnostic criteria for pyromania include:

  • an attraction to fire
  • purposely setting more than one fire
  • feeling excited or tense just before setting a fire, and feeling relief or pleasure in the aftermath of a fire
  • the fire setting is not done for monetary gain or the improvement of one's circumstances, for ideological reasons, to cover up criminal activity, to express anger or revenge, or as a result of a delusion, a hallucination, or impaired judgment
  • the fire setting is not better explained by a manic episode or other disorder

Signs of pyromania include:

  • an excessive or unnecessary amount of matches or lighters
  • burn holes in fabrics and rugs
  • burnt pieces of paper or other material in garbage cans or near a sink or stove

Someone with pyromania may seem obsessed with fire and fire fighting, frequently visiting fire departments, watching fires, helping out after a fire, and even setting off false fire alarms.

article continues after advertisement

Causes

Although the exact cause is unknown, pyromania is often associated with other psychiatric conditions, such as mood disorders or substance use disorders. Because it is a rare condition, not many studies have investigated the roots of pyromania. Some research has likened pyromania and other impulse-control disorders to behavioral addictions; some experts have suggested that there may be a genetic link between such conditions.

Treatment

Due to the high risk of injury, death, damage to property, and incarceration, it is important to seek treatment immediately upon diagnosis. Pyromania that starts in childhood usually continues into adulthood and does not stop on its own or as a result of any type of punishment.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, among other therapies, can be used to treat pyromania. The affected individual can learn to pay attention to feelings of tension that build up, figure out what causes the urge, understand the effects, and find new ways to release feelings.

Someone with pyromania may also benefit from fire safety lessons and exposure to people who have suffered burns from fires. Family counseling can help the individual’s family better understand the disorder and learn how to maintain a safe home environment.

References
Burton PRS, McNiel DE, Binder RL, et al. Firesetting, Arson, Pyromania, and Forensic Mental Health Expert. J Am Acad psychiatry Law. 2012;40:355-365.
Grant JE, Won KS. Clinical characteristics and psychiatric comorbidity of pyromania. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 2007;68(11):1717-1722.
American Psychiatric Association. Understanding Mental Disorders: Your Guide to DSM-5. 2015. American Psychiatric Publishing.
Bevilacqua L, Goldman D. Genetics of impulsive behaviour. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 5 April 2013 (published online 25 Feb 2013);368(1615).
Grant, JE, Atmaca M, Fineberg N, et al. Impulse control disorders and behavioural addictions in the ICD-11. World Psychiatry. June 2014;13(2):125-127.
Last updated: 03/30/2017