Pyromania: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

Pyromania: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

                Do you or someone you love have the urge to set fires for pleasure or a feeling of euphoria?

                Do you set fires for the fire and not to destroy things or for financial gain?

                Does setting fires help you to feel good?

                Have you ever been told you have an obsession with fire and fire setting?


Pyromania: What Does is Mean?

                Pyromania is an impulse control disorder in which an individual is unable to overcome the urge or impulse to set fires.  An individual that experiences this disorder sets fires to feel a sense of pleasure or euphoria from the fire.  Many people that experience this disorder have a fixation with fire and other things surrounding fires (i.e. fire-people or firehouses).  A pyromaniac does not set fires for financial gain or arson but sets fires to experience pleasure and positive feelings from the fire.  A true pyromaniac does not experience any remorse for setting the fire and is not concerned with the consequences that could arise for setting fires.

    Impulse Control.  Impulse control is the inability to control impulses or urges that are present.  Many times impulses can cause you to want to participate in negative or harmful activities.  If an individual experiences impulse control, they are unable to overcome the urges to participate in the negative behaviors and this later can cause feelings of remorse or consequences.  Not everyone that experiences impulse control will have remorseful feelings but many will have regret for the behavior due to consequences that have occurred.  People that experience this issue do not plan the acts or behaviors that are present and these acts have an immediate fulfillment of wishes.  Some that experience this disorder do not feel that they have control of their lives due to living on the edge and impulse. 

Stats: How Many Suffer from this Disorder?

Pyromania is a rare diagnosis.  The lifetime prevalence for fire setting is around one percent of the population but setting fires is not the only validation needed to be diagnosed.  Research has found that it would be difficult to establish specific statistics on this disorder because many pyromania acts are incorporated in arson figures.  For a true statistic to be determined, a forensic expert would have to analyze arson cases and identify arsonists who are in prison or a psychiatric facility.  This is a rare disorder, however, it is a major problem due to the risks of health and safety that occur when fires occur.

What Causes Pyromania?

                 There is not a distinct case of pyromania.  Each that experiences this disorder has individualized issues that have occurred which led to the formulation of this disorder.  This disorder has factors that are on an environmental and individual level.  Studies have shown that pyromaniacs come from families without a father-figure present. Some of the individual issues that can lead to pyromania include adolescents who have previously committed a crime (violent or non-violent), experience negative attention seeking from authorities or parents, and have revolving social issues which include bullying or limited peer development and communication.  Some of the environmental factors that can lead to pyromania are an individual that has experienced neglect from parents or guardians, physical or sexual abuse at a young age, or watching adults or older youth use fire inappropriately.

Signs and Symptoms of Pyromania

                Pyromania is an impulse control disorder in which an individual sets fires for pleasure or feelings of euphoria from a fire.  A person that is fixated on fires or fire equipment would be a sign of the possibility of this disorder.  If a person sets fires to set fires and not for financial gain he or she may experience this disorder.

    What are Common Behaviors/Characteristics?  Some of the common characteristics of pyromania is the deliberate or purposeful act of setting a fire more than once; feelings of tension or emotional arousal present before an individual sets the fire; having an infatuation with fire and its uses and consequences; a person who is a “watcher” of neighborhood first, sets off false alarms, spends a large amount of time at the local fire station and wanting to be associated with the department; an individual experiencing pleasure, relief, or gratification when setting fires or when seeing the damage caused by fires; and if the fires are set for pleasure and not for monetary gain, to cover up criminal activity, express anger or a feeling of vengeance, in response to psychosis, or as a result of impaired judgement or intoxication.

Testing: What are the Diagnostic Criteria Per the DSM 5?

                For an individual to be diagnosed using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Fifth Edition (DSM-5) with Pyromania they have to meet the following criteria:

  • Deliberate and purposeful fire setting on more than one occasion
  • Tension or affective arousal before the act
  • Fascination with, interest in, curiosity about, or attraction to fire and its situational contexts
  • Pleasure, gratification, or relief when set6ting fires or when witnessing or participation in their aftermath
  • The fire setting is not done for monetary gain, as an expression of sociopolitical ideology, to conceal criminal activity, to express anger or vengeance, to improve one’s living circumstances, in response to a delusion or hallucination, or as a result of impaired judgment
  • The fire setting is not being explained by conduct disorder, a manic episode, or anti-social personality disorder
  • (American Psychiatric Association, 2013)

Pyromania and Other Conditions

    Pyromania vs Arson.  If an individual is a repeated fire setter does this mean that they are a pyromaniac?  If the individual has deliberately and purposefully set fires on more than one occasion, been unable to reduce the urge to set fires, experience tension before the act of setting a fire, experience pleasure or gratification after setting the fire, and sets fires not for monetary gain or profit but the positive feelings that are gained from setting a fire they may be a Pyromaniac.  If an individual sets fires deliberately, or maliciously set fires to buildings, wildland areas, abandoned homes, vehicles, or other property with the intent to cause damage they may be suffering from arson but not pyromania.  Pyromania is based on the feeling behind setting the fire while arson is the act of fire setting for anger or vengeance or from financial gain.

    Pyromania vs Bipolar.  There is not a clear link between pyromania and Bipolar.  If an individual experience Bipolar they may have manic episodes which give them an increase in energy, reduces the need for sleep, and also can behave erratically.  Individuals with pyromania may appear to be manic but due to the lack of manic symptoms this would not be congruent.  Both of these disorders would need to be treated separately.

    Pyromania vs Antisocial Personality Disorder. Antisocial personality disorder is a personality disorder which is characteristics by a long-term pattern of disregard for or violation of the rights of others.  If an individual experiences pyromania they do disregard the safety of others by setting fires for pleasure.  They can have some mirrored symptoms of anti-social personality disorder but it is only in the behavior of fire setting and not in another disregard of behaviors. 

    Related Conditions.  Some of the other related conditions of pyromania could be conduct disorder or manic episode.  It is important that providers rule out all possibility of other disorders.

Pyromania in Adults/Children

                Pyromania is more prevalent in males than females and more common in children and adolescents than with adults.  There is little evidence found on pyromania and adults.  It has been found that over half of individuals that experience this disorder have had behaviors that have started before the age of 15.  It has been found that children as young as three can experience this disorder.  It is astonishing to know that if a child or adolescent experiences abuse or neglect at a young age they can develop this disorder in elementary school years.

Example Case of Pyromania

                While working in residential treatment with adolescent males which have experienced abuse or neglect at a young age pyromania was a disorder that occurred occasionally.  I worked with a young male that was 13 years old.  He was sexually abused as a child, was in foster care for the majority of his life and had little stability, and struggled to have appropriate communication with peers and also adults.  He had a hard time verbalizing his behaviors and expressing emotions.  He did not express himself much during counseling sessions.  He did set fires on the unit of the facility using his heater and it was found through processing that he would do this for attention from staff and his therapist.  It was later found that he did not want to ask for help and used setting fires to get the help that he emotionally needed.  Through very detailed and strategic work he was able to work on learning the skills that were needed to express himself verbally so that he would not have to set fires.  He had to have consistent support from staff members, peers, and the treatment team to overcome this issue.  He did overcome this issue and completed the program.            

How to Deal/Coping with Pyromania

                There have not been any distinct strategies determined to assist in dealing or coping with this disorder.  Through behavior modification, empathy building, and other impulse control strategies an individual can work on overcoming the inability to control urges or impulses.  Positive coping tools that give an individual feeling of euphoria or pleasure can assist with the restructuring of the negative feelings present with this disorder. It does take consistent work to overcome this disorder.

                Look out for These Complications/Risk Factors.  There are not any distinct risk factor or complications determined for Pyromania.  There are a few disorders what have been identified to be congruent with this disorder and these include: substance use disorder, gambling disorder, depressive and bipolar disorders, other disruptive or impulse-control disorder, and conduct disorders.  Male children that have experienced physical and sexual abuse at a young age, neglect, and do not have an active father-figure are at a higher risk of experiencing this disorder.

Pyromania Treatment

                There are two main treatments for this disorder which include psychotherapy and medication.  Psychotherapy should include cognitive behavioral therapy in which the therapist helps the client identify triggers that cause his or her urge to set fires and educate the client on new coping tools which could be utilized to deal with impulses.  It may also involve the use of exposure and response prevention and habit reversal training.

    Possible Medications for Pyromania.  Medications that have been found to be useful for this disorder include antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and anti psychotics.  It is important that the client seek treatment from a psychiatrist that has experience with impulse control disorders and they remain compliant with the medication regimen that has been prescribed for them.

    Home Remedies to help Pyromania.  One of the most important home remedies for this disorder is support.  Developing and maintaining a positive support system is important for effective treatment.  Learning to manage stress and developing positive coping strategies that can be utilized in stressful situations can help to avoid the progression of this disorder.  It is important that an individual is eating healthy meals and receiving adequate rest consistently.  When a person gets the appropriate sleep needed and eats a healthy diet they have a higher prevalence of positive mood and reduction of irritability which can increase impulses.  Another remedy to reduce the urges for fire setting is psycho-education on fire safety and exposure to individuals that have suffered consequences due to fires.

Living with Pyromania.  Asking for help and seeking support is the first step to being able to live with this disorder.  Many individuals feel that they will not be heard but the longer negative feelings are manifested the more negative and dangerous reactions can occur.  If you are experiencing these feelings and urges it is important you know that help is out there and these negative feelings can be reduced through appropriate treatment and medication regimen.

Insurance Coverage for Pyromania.  Most all insurance providers should cover this disorder.  If you are experiencing symptoms that affect your daily activities, social, relationship, and occupational functioning it is important you reach out and seek assistance.  If you have insurance, you can contact your insurance provider and locate clinicians in your area that are covered.

How to Find a Therapist?

                There are many local resources to find counseling.  Psychology Today has a list of providers in local areas and also identifies the modalities of the providers.  Word of mouth is a great way to seek a counselor.  More people are getting help and asking a trusted friend could assist you in finding the provider that is right for you.

                What Should I be Looking for in an LMHP? Looking for a counselor with experience with cognitive behavioral therapy, behavior modification, trauma therapy, and impulse control disorders would be beneficial because they can help reshape negative feelings and develop more positive coping tools and thoughts to assist in the reduction of negative reactions. 

                Questions to ask for Potential Therapist? Do you have experience treating impulse control disorders, past trauma, and positive healthy lifestyle changes?  Do you utilize homework and assist in the development of skills to assist in reshaping negative thinking?   

Pyromania Resources and Support Helpline

                There are many local support groups for addictions and impulse control disorders. There is not a national helpline for this topic but reaching out to specialists in your local area can help you to locate support for symptom reduction.


                Pyromania is a rare disorder that affects one percent of the population  It can be a dangerous disorder because fires set by Pyromaniacs can be life-threatening to the individuals involved and also the property that is destroyed.  This disorder is most prevalent in male children and adolescents.  IF you are someone you love is experiencing this disorder finding help important to reduce the prevalence of this disorder.  There are many resources to provide a judgment-free zone to assist in the reduction of this impulse control disorder.



American Psychiatric Association. (2013).  Diagnostic and statistical mental of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author

author avatar
Angel Rivera
I am a Bilingual (Spanish) Psychiatrist with a mixture of strong clinical skills including Emergency Psychiatry, Consultation Liaison, Forensic Psychiatry, Telepsychiatry and Geriatric Psychiatry training in treatment of the elderly. I have training in EMR records thus very comfortable in working with computers. I served the difficult to treat patients in challenging environments in outpatient and inpatient settings
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