What Is Pyromania?

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on July 19, 2023
3 min read

Pyromania is a type of impulse control disorder that is characterized by being unable to resist starting fires. People with pyromania know that setting fires is harmful. But setting fires is the only way they can relieve their built-up tension, anxiety, or arousal. They feel satisfaction or relief after they set a fire.

Pyromania is part of a group of disorders called disruptive, impulse-control, and conduct disorders. These disorders cause people to be aggressive towards people or property. 

If you have one of these disorders you may have a hard time controlling your emotions and behavior. Everyone feels that way occasionally. Yet in people with one of these disorders the behavior:

  • Lasts a long time
  • Happens frequently
  • Happens in different situations
  • Causes significant problems

Several factors increase your risk of developing a disruptive, impulse-control, or conduct disorder, including: 

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Harsh parenting
  • Parents with a history of addiction
  • Parents with a history of problems with law enforcement

A diagnosis of pyromania depends on the reasons someone sets a fire. It's important to distinguish between different motives. Lighting fires is considered to be a behavior, not a disorder. Not everyone who sets a fire commits a crime.

Arson is a crime, but most arsonists don't have pyromania. Pyromania is a psychiatric disorder.

In order to be diagnosed with pyromania, the following symptoms must be present:

  • Setting a fire deliberately and on purpose on more than one occasion
  • Feeling tense or energetic before starting a fire
  • Being drawn to and obsessed with fire and everything about it
  • Feeling pleasure, relief, or gratification when setting fires, seeing fires, or being involved in the aftermath of fires
  • Setting fires can't be explained through another psychiatric disorder

Pyromania is very rare. In one study of 90 people who committed arson more than once, only 3 met the criteria for pyromania. People who set fires for the following reasons typically do not have pyromania:

  • Monetary gain
  • Political beliefs
  • To hide a crime
  • To improve a living situation
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Impaired judgment, such as being under the influence of drugs or alcohol

It's not known exactly what causes pyromania. It's thought that it could be related to one or more of the following issues.

Other psychiatric disorders. People with pyromania often have other psychiatric issues. These might be anxiety, substance abuse, addiction, depression, attention deficit disorder, mood disorders, or learning disabilities.

Heredity. Pyromania is a type of impulse-control disorder. There seems to be a genetic component to these types of disorders. People with impulse-control disorders like pyromania are more likely to have relatives with psychiatric illnesses.

Brain chemicals. Your brain produces chemicals that control how you think, act, and feel. 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. This may lead you to associate starting a fire with feeling good. 

Pyromania is very rare. It hasn't been as extensively studied as other conditions. Pyromania has been associated with the following: 

  • Being male
  • Below normal intelligence
  • Having a mood disorder
  • Being mistreated as a child
  • Having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Family stress

No clinical research has been done on medications to treat pyromania. Your doctor may prescribe medicines to help manage your pyromania. Cognitive behavior therapy is also used to treat pyromania. Cognitive behavior therapy may include:

  • Identifying the cause of the impulse
  • Correcting or eliminating the behavior
  • Changing the behavior or impulse
  • Exchanging the old habit with a more appropriate one
  • Finding effective coping methods
  • Self-monitoring
  • Using a buddy system in risky situations
  • Parent training
  • Problem-solving skills training
  • Relaxation training
  • Thinking about negative consequences
  • Fire safety and prevention
  • Family therapy
  • Individual therapy