Definition of Pyromania
Pyromania is a rare psychiatric impulse control disorder characterized by an obsessive desire to set fires. Impulse control disorders are when a person is unable to resist a destructive urge or impulse. It is characterised by an unnatural obsession to setup fires. Some research reveals that while a person with pyromania will get an emotional release after setting a fire, they may also experience guilt or distress afterwards, especially if they were fighting the impulse as long as they could (APA, 2013).
Causes of Pyromania
Research has not been conclusive on what causes someone to have Pyromania. It is however thought to be related to several other psychological and mental health-related issues or environmental or externally triggered issues including:
- Psychiatric disorders – it is thought that people with pyromania often have other psychiatric issues which might be anxiety, depression, attention deficit disorder, mood disorders, substance abuse, addiction or learning disabilities.
- Heredity – it is also thought that there could be a genetic component to pyromania and other impulse control disorders. People with impulse-control disorders like pyromania are more likely to have relatives with psychiatric illnesses.
- Brain chemicals – a human brain produces chemicals that control how one thinks, acts, and feels. People with a chemical imbalance in their brains may be more susceptible to pyromania.
- Stressors - pyromania may be linked to stressful events such as a major loss or child abuse.
- Triggers – sometimes triggers, like a thought or a drug, can cause changes in your brain chemicals and this may lead those affected by this disorder to associate starting a fire with feeling good or relieved.
(APA, 2013; Burton et al., 2012; Coid et al, 1999; Gyant et al., 2007; Johnson & Netherton, 2017)
Types of Pyromania
Research on this disorder has been minimal due to the challenges in identifying specific underlying causes. However, sometimes pyromania can be categorized by possible genetic links or connections or similar to a behavioural addiction. Although there are no distinct differentiating factors when it comes to pyromania disorder, research indicates that a majority of the people affected are male. In some instances, this disorder has been linked to or thought to include another impulse control disorder related to obsession with fires called pyrolagnia (APA, 2013; Burton et al., 2012; Coid et al, 1999; Gyant et al., 2007; Johnson & Netherton, 2017).
Symptoms of Pyromania
Someone who has pyromania starts fires at a frequency around every 6 weeks. According to the American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders -V “individuals with this disorder are often regular ‘watchers’ at fires in their neighbourhoods, may set off false alarms, and derive pleasure from institutions, equipment, and personnel associated with fire. They may spend time at the local fire department, set fires to be affiliated with the fire department” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p. 476–477). Some of the most common symptoms that lead to a diagnosis of pyromania include:
- An uncontrollable urge to set fires or setting up a fire deliberately on more than one occasion.
- Pleasure, a rush or relief when setting or seeing fires or a tense or energetic feeling before starting a fire.
- Being drawn to and obsessed with fire and everything about it or a fascination and attraction to fires and its paraphernalia.
- Feeling pleasure, relief or gratification when setting fires, seeing fires or being involved in the aftermath of fires.
- Pleasure, gratification, relief, tension or excitement when setting fires or when witnessing or participating in the aftermath of fire-starting.
- Setting fires can't be explained through another psychiatric disorder.
- Symptoms may start during puberty and last until or through adulthood.
- Someone may also be an avid watcher of fires who goes out of their way to seek them out, sometimes to the point of becoming a firefighter.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 11(7), 14-16.
Burton, P.R.S., McNiel, D.E., Binder, R.L. (2012). Firesetting, Arson, Pyromania, And The Forensic Mental Health Expert. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 40(3), 355-365.
Coid, J., Wilkins, J., Bina, C., (1999). Fire-Setting, Pyromania and Self-Mutilation in Female Remanded Prisoners. The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry, 10(1), 119-130.
Gyant, J.E., & Kim, S.W. (2007). Clinical Characteristics and Psychiatric Comorbidity of Pyromania. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 68(11), 1717-1722.
Johnson, R.S., Netherton, E., (2017). Fire Setting and the Impulse-Control Disorder of Pyromania. The American Journal of Psychiatry.