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Pyromania as a Psychological Disorder


Pyromania, as described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is an impulse control disorder that is characterized by an abnormal obsession with setting things on fire in order to relieve tension. People with this condition find it difficult to resist the impulse or the urge to set things ablaze. Unlike arson which is done with monetary or retaliatory intentions, pyromania is a psychiatric condition over which victims usually have little control over. According to Palermo (2015), this disorder is very rare, and researchers suggest that as little as 3 percent of psychiatric patients have the condition.

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The history of the term can be traced back to 1883; it was majorly viewed as a form of monomania, but this changed with the development of psychoanalytic theory. Research has shown that it is more prevalent among men than women, and is caused by both behavioral and genetic factors


Scientists have not yet identified the exact cause of pyromania. However, research has suggested that it could be linked with chemical imbalances in the brain, genetics, and stress. Pyromania is associated with impulsivity, which is considered a genetic factor (Geddes, 2020). Moreover, the condition’s genetic component could be linked with impulse control due to the influence of genes on neurotransmitters. Intellectual deficits, abuse of drugs and alcohol, and environmental factors such as abuse during childhood have been cited as potential causes (Johnson & Netherton, 2016). Studies have attributed other environmental factors such as stressful situations, parental neglect, and peer pressure as causes of pyromania (Lochman & Matthys, 2018). The disorder can also result from the habit of seeking sensation and adventure, poor social skills, and antisocial behaviors and attitudes.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs of pyromania include a propensity to start fires, a fascination with fires and associated paraphernalia, and heightened tension around fire-setting. These signs may be observed forts in childhood and extend to adulthood if untreated. Another sign is the expression of pleasure or relief when around fires or when setting a fire (Geddes, 2020). According to Palermo (2015), individuals with the disorder also report experiencing an overpowering impulse to start fires. In many instances, individuals experience emotional release from setting fires (Johnson & Netherton, 2016). However, feelings of guilt and regret are also common in people who have resisted the urge for protracted periods. Care should be taken not to make hasty conclusions that the propensity to start fires is a sign of pyromania. The habit can be associated with other mental health conditions such as substance use disorders, conduct disorders, and mood disorders.


According to DSM-5, several criteria should be followed in order to diagnose pyromania in an individual. The act of setting things on fire should be purposeful and intentional, and it should have occurred on several occasions. The act should be preceded by tension or arousal of some kind, such as anger or restlessness that they wish to alleviate (Geddes, 2020). The individual must also show an abnormal fascination with fire and anything related to it such as its uses, its potential for destruction, and the associated paraphernalia (Lochman & Matthys, 2018). The individual must also derive pleasure from the acts of setting things ablaze, watching them burn, and the aftermath of their actions (Johnson & Netherton, 2016). Finally, the fire setting should not have a monetary, reprisal, or criminal component, and it should not be connected with impaired judgment.


Research shows that pyromania is more common among men than women, and it affects less than 1 percent of the population. It is a rare disorder, and limited research has been conducted regarding its epidemiology. Approximately 10 percent of the global population suffers from impulse control problems that include pyromania (Geddes, 2020). The majority of the studies that have been conducted on this disorder have focused mainly on children and adolescents. Their findings suggest that the prevalence rates range between 2.4 percent and 3.5 percent (Lochman & Matthys, 2018). A study published by the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions revealed the prevalence of pyromania was 3.4 percent among adults admitted to psychiatric institutions.


A single treatment for pyromania is nonexistent, and the mode used depends on the age of the patient and the severity of the disorder’s manifestation. The two most effective treatment remedies for pyromania are counseling and medication (Johnson & Netherton, 2016). Behavior modification through cognitive behavior therapy has been shown to work because it helps patients deal with their triggers and impulses. Moreover, it is used to help individuals develop coping techniques that are useful in dealing with the impulses to start fires. Among children and adolescents, the disease can be treated using joint therapy in which the parents are involved.

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Aversion therapy, parent training, behavior reinforcement, and covert sensitization are also used by some physicians for treatment purposes (Geddes, 2020). Medications used to treat pyromania include antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, atypical antipsychotics, anti-androgens, lithium, and antiepileptic drugs (Lochman & Matthys, 2018). The choice is determined by the physician based on the patient’s history and severity of symptoms.

The treatment procedures followed among children and adults are based on the signs and symptoms and medical history. In children, treatment commences with a thorough assessment of their relationships with parents or guardians, and the presence of stressors in their lives. The evaluation is followed by a case-management approach that involves training on how to manage anger and develop social skills (Johnson & Netherton, 2016).

Research has shown that these methods are highly effective among children. On the contrary, the treatment of adults incorporates both medication and psychotherapy for better outcomes (Lochman & Matthys, 2018). The drugs are used for impulse control, and include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and tricyclic antidepressants, depending on the disorder’s manifestation in the patient.


Pyromania is a mental disorder that is characterized by an uncontrollable impulse to start fires for purposes of tension alleviation. Unlike arson which is done for monetary, criminal, or retaliatory purposes, it is due to overpowering urges. It is accused of both genetic and environmental factors such as childhood neglect and life stressors. According to DSM-5, diagnosis can only be conclusive if an individual is fascinated with fire and related appliances, sets fires purposefully on several occasions, and derives pleasure or relief from seeing things burn. Common symptoms include a fascination with fires, uncontrollable impulses to start fires, and the propensity to start fires on a regular basis.

Pyromania affects less than 1% of the global population, and it is more prevalent in men than in women. Treatment is dependent on the severity of the disorder and the age of the patient. The most effective remedy involves a combination of medication and psychotherapy, especially among adults. In children, treatment mainly involves training that aims to develop social skills and promote anger management.


Geddes, J. R., Andreasen, N. C., & Goodwin, G. M. (Eds.). (2020). New Oxford textbook of psychiatry (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press.

Johnson, S., & Netherton, E. (2016). Firesetting and the impulse-control disorders of pyromaniaThe American Journal of Psychiatry Resident’s Journal, 11(7), 14-16. Web.

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Lochman, J. E., & Matthys, W. (2018). The Wiley handbook of disruptive and impulse-control disorders. John Wiley & Sons.

Palermo, G. B. (2015). A look at fire setting, arson, and pyromania. International Journal of offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 59(7), 683-684. Web.

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