What is pyromania, causes and treatment

What is pyromania, causes and treatment

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


  • 1 What does pyromania consist of
  • 2 Signs and symptoms of pyromania
  • 3 Causes of pyromania
  • 4 Pyromania in children
  • 5 Treatment of pyromania

What does pyromania consist of

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

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

People with pyromania are deeply fascinated by fire and everything that surrounds it. They cannot stop their impulse to cause fires, participate in other activities related to fire and experience feelings of satisfaction or release of internal tension and anxiety accumulated once the fire starts.

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

Signs and symptoms of pyromania

In the last edition of DSM-V diagnostic manual Pyromania is included in the section disruptive, impulse control and behavior disorders. The essential characteristic of pyromania is the presence of multiple episodes of intentional and deliberate fire.

Symptoms include a strong attraction to fire, intentionally causing more than one fire, feeling excited or tense just before lighting a fire, and feeling relief or pleasure after it. Other symptoms may include:

  • Fascination with fire, including great interest, curiosity and attraction for everything related to it.
  • Pleasure to see fires, activate false alarms or enjoy being in institutions with equipment and personnel related to fire.
  • Cause fires and then collaborate with the fire department or become a firefighter.
  • Experience pleasure, gratification or relief when starting a fire, stay to witness the effects and participate in the consequences.

As we have already said, arsonists do not cause fires to obtain monetary gains. Nor are they trying to hide criminal activity, get revenge or improve their living situation. The symptoms cannot be in response to delusions or hallucinations either.

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

Other signs of pyromania include obsession to always have matches and lighters on hand. Carry out burns on fabrics and carpets, and burn paper or other flammable material whenever possible.

Teens with pyromania are divided 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 due to a neurological or medical disorder).
  • Those who suffer from other major disorders diagnosed as the paranoia, psychosis and sometimes even suicidal
  • Those who demand attention and help dysfunctionally.

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 patients with pyromania were in homes without a father figure present.

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

When investigators 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 abipolar disorder, substance abuse, gambling or antisocial personality disorder They 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 problems 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 what suffer abandonment or neglect by their parents. Subjects who have a previous history of crime also tend to show more tendencies towards the provocation of 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

The majority of the cases studied of pyromania occur in children and adolescents.

The provocation of an intentional fire is an important problem among the youngest. Many of the people arrested by arson are under 18 years old. However, few of these young people meet the exclusive criteria of pyromania.

There is no typical starting age for pyromania. It can be identified during childhood, but it is not clear if pyromania is maintained during adulthood.

Fire-provoking behaviors often come and go, so a child who exhibits symptoms of pyromania may improve over time before starting an intended fire again.

The provocation of fires in adolescents is often associated with a behavioral disorder, ADHD or an adjustment disorder.

Pyromania treatment

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

Family members who are worried about someone who seems obsessed with fire may benefit from family orientation. Family therapy It can help components understand the disorder and at the same time teach 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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