Pyromania is the deliberate and persistent act of starting fires to relieve tension and anxiety. Pleasure or gratification is often felt when watching the fire and its aftermath. The facts surrounding pyromania diagnosis have changed over the years. The scattered studies found concerning pyromania often have smaller numbers of participants with varying methods of conducting the studies. Pyromania statistics, however, show the true prevalence of pyromania to be quite low, even less than 1% of the U.S. population.

The most recent criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) states that, for a pyromania diagnosis to be made, fire setting must occur on more than one occasion with known tension or arousal before the act and relief or pleasure after the act, and no known substance misuse or other mental health disorder that would better explain the fire setting behavior can be present.

Prevalence of Pyromania

The various studies concerning pyromania prevalence show that it is a rare disorder. Pyromania disorder is differentiated from the ordinary fascination or curiosity with fires. It is categorized as a mental health condition where the desire to set intentional fires is impulsive, deliberate and repetitive. Although the overall prevalence of pyromania remains unknown, among psychiatric inpatients, there is an estimated 3–6% who meet the criteria for pyromania.

Pyromania Men vs. Women

There are limited systematic studies on people with pyromania, which is one reason the true prevalence of pyromania is unknown. However, pyromania in men appears to be more common than in women. This difference may be due to the fact that fire setting appears to be a male-dominated behavior, with one study showing over two-thirds of fire starters were male.

Pyromania in Children and Adolescents

Interest in fire is almost universally seen among children. In 2010, the U.S. Fire Department responded to 44,900 fires, with the many of fire starters being children. Interest and curiosity surrounding fire are likely the reasons preschoolers and kindergartners play with fire so frequently. A reported 46% of home fires are started by children 5 years old and younger.

Although there are no statistical numbers concerning pyromania in children or teens, the behavior of firesetting has been studied extensively in adolescents. Attributing factors for this behavior can include mistreatment, family stress and boredom, with strong leanings toward antisocial personality disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Approximately 60% of firesetting cases occurred before the age of 15, with peak ages between 12 and 14. Fire setting persisted in 38% of those cases.

Firesetting is seen among children and teens but does not in itself qualify as a diagnosis for pyromania. The vast majority of this behavior may be due to boredom or experimentation.

Pyromania vs. Arsonists

Both pyromania and arson involve firesetting; however, that may be all the two conditions have in common. The difference between pyromania and arson is that pyromania is a psychiatric diagnosis whereas arson is a crime. Arson involves the willful and malicious setting of fire to a structure or property of another person. The intent is to induce harm or damage to others. Arson is seen more commonly among males, though the amount of female arsons is increasing. In one study of 90 arson re-offenders, only three met the criteria for pyromania.

Pyromania and Co-Occurring Disorders

While pyromania is currently classified in the DSM-5 as an impulse control disorder, it was previously classified as an obsessive-compulsive disorder. A hallmark of impulse control disorders is the inability or failure to resist an impulse or drive to perform an act that is harmful to oneself or others.

The rate of pyromania and co-occurring disorders is considered to be high. In one study, 95.1% of individuals with a history of firesetting had a lifetime history of at least one psychiatric diagnosis. Firesetting comorbidity is high and can be seen alongside the following mental health conditions:

The current understanding of pyromania in the general population is not well-defined, but one study focused on individuals diagnosed with pyromania cited a high rate of comorbidity with other psychiatric problems:

  • Pyromania and Mood Disorders: Comorbidity of 61.9%
  • Pyromania and Impulse-Control Disorder: Comorbidity of 47.6%
  • Pyromania and Depression: Nearly 10% comorbidity

Pyromania Treatment and Prognosis

Pyromania can be a chronic condition if left untreated. Very few individuals who display firesetting behavior seek treatment.

Due to its rarity, the methods for pyromania treatment are varied and depend on any comorbid conditions. One documented treatment method that shows promise is cognitive behavioral therapy. Although there have been no controlled trials of medication specific to pyromania, some proposed medications to treat pyromania include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, anti-seizure medications, lithium and atypical antipsychotic medications.

In limited case studies, the prognosis for pyromania, even in long-standing cases, shows a decrease or cessation in firesetting behavior with the use of medication. Therefore, the combined use of cognitive behavioral therapy and medication may increase the rate of a positive prognosis.

If you or someone you know is showing signs of pyromania or other dangerous firesetting behavior while misusing alcohol or other substances, feel free to reach out to The Recovery Village. Our representatives will be happy to discuss one of our treatment plans with you.

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