Pyromania is an impulse-control disorder that causes the inability to fight an urge to set fires. This behavior is not caused by an addiction, but rather by negative feelings or anxiety that can be relieved only when the patient sets a fire. This behavior differs from arson, and from the act of lighting fires due to limited mental capacity (such as with mental retardation) or for political or monetary gain.

Symptoms of Pyromania

Symptoms of pyromania resemble those of many other impulse-control disorders, but with their own unique result. While others may turn to gambling or overeating as a way of curbing negative and anxious feelings, people who suffer from pyromania become fixed on fire and use it as a means of relief for their tension. The urge to set a fire becomes uncontrollable and irresistible. The following describes symptoms to look out for when pyromania is suspected:

  • A deep urge to set a fire that does not stem from substance abuse, desire for personal gain or a desire for revenge.
  • Increased tension or anxiety may lead to the urge for fire-setting.
  • Immense feelings of pleasure and relief during the activity.
  • Possible guilt, shame or embarrassment once the episode is complete.
  • Fixation on fire, fire stations, firefighters or other activities involving fire.

Causes of Pyromania

The exact cause of pyromania and other impulse-control disorders is not known. As with many mental illnesses, a chemical imbalance in the brain, or other neurological issues may play a role. Long-term exposure to persons with any type of mental illness can contribute, such as growing up in a family surrounded by substance abuse, domestic abuse and schizoid behavior or lack of impulse-control. Susceptibility to this type of behavior may also be passed genetically.

Diagnosing Pyromania

Due to the complications that may result from symptoms of pyromania, seeking a diagnosis and treatment is important. Not only can fire-setting result in arrest and imprisonment, an individual who suffers may also develop additional compulsive behaviors and experience significant problems with relationships. In order to come to a pyromania diagnosis, symptoms of other mental illness cannot be present. A physician will normally conduct a physical examination to rule out any ailments that may be contributing to the behavior. A psychiatrist or psychologist can then conduct an assessment of behavior and determine a diagnosis from the results.

Treatment Options for Pyromania

Pyromania is difficult to treat, due to the impulsive nature of the disorder. This is a rare disorder, so pinpointed diagnosis must be sought in order to determine the most effective treatment. There is no medication approved for symptoms of pyromania, and if a prescription is recommended, it will likely be for treatment of an underlying condition, such as severe anxiety or depression. The best way to prevent and reverse symptoms of pyromania is with one or more types of therapy. Following is a brief list of therapy types that may benefit:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy – helps to bring about awareness of triggering events that may lead to symptoms. Also provides new and more positive coping skills and suggestions for activities that may lead away from the negative behavior.
  • Family therapy – may help to uncover the individual root cause of symptoms, leading to a more balanced sense of wellness and increased ability to resist urges.
  • Group therapy – engaging in mutually supportive groups of people with similar symptoms may bring about increased awareness of problem areas and new avenues for prevention.
  • Alternative therapy – exercises in meditation, relaxation and programs such as yoga and tai-chi encourage healing of the mind, body and spirit, which may lead to increased emotional stability.