Pyromania is an impulse control disorder wherein a person intentionally starts fires. A person with pyromania gets pleasure or a sense of euphoria from watching a fire burn. They do not necessarily intend for the fire to cause damage or be life-threatening, but usually, do not consider either scenario when setting fires. Many times a person with pyromania will have tension buildups that are relieved only by setting a fire.
Impulse control disorders commonly co-occur with other mental health disorders and substance use disorders. Pyromania and substance abuse can occur in the same person. Among people with pyromania, about 33% have also been diagnosed with a co-occurring substance use disorder, such as alcohol or drug use. When a person has co-occurring disorders, the disorders can influence one another and have detrimental effects on the symptoms of each.
Effects of Drug Use on Pyromania Symptoms
To be medically diagnosed with pyromania, a person must not have drugs or alcohol in their system when they start the fires. However, if a person who already has pyromania uses alcohol or other substances, it is likely to make the symptoms of pyromania worse. One of the underlying characteristics of impulse control disorders, as suggested by their name, is that a person acts impulsively on their desires and has little control over their actions. Alcohol and other substances are known to increase impulsivity. It has been well-documented that heavy alcohol use can trigger impulsive behavior. Therefore, alcohol use often makes impulse control disorders worse.
Pyromania and alcohol use commonly co-occur. Among people with a history of setting fires (but not necessarily a pyromania diagnosis), alcohol use disorder was the most prevalent psychiatric disorder to be present.
Can Pyromania Lead to Substance Abuse?
Since pyromania is an impulse control disorder, the underlying vulnerability characteristic of the condition may mean a person is more likely to develop a substance use disorder. Impulse control disorders are defined by a person having trouble controlling their behaviors or emotions. They often have cravings to engage in certain behaviors that make them feel more relaxed or in control, such as setting fires.
These characteristics are also common among people with substance use disorders. While it is not clear that an impulse control disorder, such as pyromania, can directly lead to a substance use disorder, it is believed that someone with an impulse control disorder may be more susceptible to developing a substance use disorder due to these underlying similarities.
Treating Pyromania and Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorders
Treatment for pyromania involves therapy and — depending on the case — medication. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been effective in treating pyromania. Additionally, some people with pyromania have responded well to medications, including topiramate, valproic acid, olanzapine or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are also used to treat depression and anxiety.
When a person has a co-occurring disorder, it is best for them to receive treatment for both disorders. If you or a loved one are living with a substance use disorder and co-occurring impulse control disorder, The Recovery Village can help. We have facilities around the country that can provide a full range of care. To learn more about our comprehensive treatment plans, call The Recovery Village to speak with a representative today.
Schreiber, Liana; Odlaug, Brian L.; Grant, Jon E. “Impulse Control Disorders: Updated Review of Clinical Characteristics and Pharmacological Management.” Frontiers in Psychiatry, February 21, 2011. Accessed July 5, 2019.
Vaughn, Michael G., et al. “Prevalence and Correlates of Fire-Setting in the United States: Results from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions.” Comprehensive Psychiatry, May–June 2010. Accessed July 5, 2019.
Blanco, Carlos, et al. “Prevalence and Correlates of Firesetting in the US: Results from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC).” The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, September 2010. Accessed July 5, 2019.
Johnson, R. Scott; Netherton, Elisabeth. “Fire Setting and the Impulse-Control Disorder of Pyromania.” The American Journal of Psychiatry, April 19, 2017. Accessed July 5, 2019.
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