Pyromania differs from fire starting, and pyromaniac behavior is not arson. That’s because pyromania is an impulse control disorder. People with pyromania have an urge to set things on fire for no obvious reason.
Pyromaniac behavior is not motivated by financial gain, revenge, politics or concealing a crime. The defining characteristics of pyromania are a fascination with fire and an inability to resist the urge to set fires.
Official Definition: Pyromaniac Behavior
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), the major reference text for mental health professionals, defines pyromania with the following criteria:
- Fires are set repeatedly and deliberately.
- Growing tension and arousal precede the fire setting.
- Setting or watching the fire promotes feelings of pleasure and relief.
- The behavior can’t be explained by other mental problems, such as antisocial personality disorder, conduct disorder or a manic episode.
- The fire setting is not prompted by anger, pursuit of financial gain, vengeance, political expression, a criminal cover-up or impaired judgment.
Characteristics of Pyromaniac Behavior
Although children and adolescents set many of the fires started in the U.S. each year, these young fire starters rarely exhibit the characteristic behaviors of pyromania. Fire-starting behavior in young people is more frequently linked to conduct disorders.
Pyromania in adults often occurs simultaneously with other mental health issues such as obsessive-compulsive, anxiety and mood disorders.
Using the DSM-IV definition, pyromaniac behavior is primarily a male activity. According to The Gale Encyclopedia of Childhood and Adolescence, 90 percent of people diagnosed with pyromania are adult men.
Related research shows that people with pyromania tend to have abnormal levels of norepinephrine and serotonin in their brains. These neurotransmitters are linked to problems with blood sugar levels and impulse control.
Treatment for Pyromania
The prognosis is generally more hopeful for young people and children with pyromania than it is for adults. Family therapy and a case management approach seem to be particularly helpful with children.
Treatment with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like ProzacÂ® is effective in some cases of pyromania.
Behavioral therapy has helped some individuals deal with this impulse control disorder. The therapy helps individuals notice the feelings they have before fire setting and shows them how to make different choices.
An unhealthy fascination with fire can have devastating results in terms of lives and property. If you think you or someone you know may be showing signs of pyromania, seek professional help.
Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders. (2002). Pyromania. Retrieved July 14, 2010, from http://www.minddisorders.com/Py-Z/Pyromania.html.
Franklin, D. J. (2010). Impulse control disorders. Retrieved July 14, 2010, from http://www.psychologyinfo.com/problems/impulse_control.html.
Gale, T. (1998). Impulse control disorders. Retrieved July 14, 2010, from http://www.healthline.com/galecontent/impulse-control-disorders.
Hucker, S. J. (2005). Pyromania. Retrieved July 14, 2010, from http://www.forensicpsychiatry.ca/impulse/pryromania.htm.