Pyromania - what it is, causes and treatment of the disease

Pyromania is a disorder of desire, manifested by an irresistible urge to set fire and fascination with watching flames. The desire to start a fire arises spontaneously, while arson occurs impulsively. Pyromaniacs experience extraordinary delight and pleasure while organizing a fire and observing the combustion process; they can only assess the consequences after extinguishing it. Diagnosis is performed using the method of clinical conversation. Treatment of true pyromania is carried out using methods of cognitive behavioral psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, and drug behavior correction.

Pyromania - what is it?

Pyromania in psychology is a mental disorder characterized by a desire to commit arson and derive pleasure from observing fire, such as a candle flame or a fire.

Translated from ancient Greek, the word “pyromania” means “passion for fire, attraction.” The first information about this violation appeared in 1824. However, almost 200 years later it remains completely unexplored.

According to statistics, pyromania most often occurs among representatives of the age category 14-30 years. Most of them are men. There are few pyromaniacs among women, only 0.4%.

Pyromania can develop as a separate disease or be a sign of other pathologies, such as schizophrenia or psychosis associated with the consumption of excessive amounts of alcoholic beverages.

Historical chronicle

In the 1800s, pyromania was thought to be associated with “moral” insanity and required “moral treatment,” but it was not classified as an impulse control disorder. Pyromania is one of the motives for arson recognized today. Other than that, they include profit, covering up a crime, and revenge, with pyromania being the second most common category. Commonly used synonyms for pyromaniacs include the term “arsonist.”

Pyromania is a rare disorder, affecting less than one percent of people in most studies; Also, pyromaniacs make up a very small proportion of psychiatric hospitalizations. Pyromania can appear in children as young as three years old, but such cases are rare.

A 1979 study by the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration found that only 14% of fires were caused by pyromaniacs and other people with mental illness. A 1951 study by Lewis and Yarnell, one of the largest epidemiological studies, found that 39% of people who intentionally set fires had pyromania.

Interesting Facts

In human history there have been many people suffering from pyromania. One of them is Herostratus. This man, who lived during the times of Ancient Greece, became famous for nothing other than his strange love of arson. He is responsible for the fire that burned down the Temple of Artemis, located in Ephesus.

Why he did this, Herostratus could not explain. According to some scientists, this was an attempt to become famous, at least for a few minutes. And the man received his share of glory. It came with the death penalty.

The Roman Emperor Nero also suffered from pyromania. Remember the story of how he burned Rome? The ruler watched the large-scale fire for a week, and when he realized what he had done, he placed all the blame on the Christians. This event provoked mass persecutions and pogroms.


Psychologists and psychiatrists have conducted a lot of research, thanks to which they have found that in almost 100% of cases, pyromania begins in childhood. But its manifestations gain strength in adulthood.

It is impossible to say unequivocally for what reasons the disorder develops. However, experts were able to identify a number of factors provoking its appearance:

  1. Character type. In most cases, pyromaniacs do not know how to quickly adapt to changing life circumstances. This makes them very vulnerable to stress. In addition, they usually have low self-esteem and almost completely lack self-confidence, and have a highly developed inferiority complex. This is why such people look at the world around them through a negative lens. It turns out to be a vicious circle. They seem to not want to make contact with society, but at the same time they are in dire need of attention. Arson helps solve the problem. Even if it is fleeting, pyromaniacs still receive attention.
  2. Authoritarian parenting. According to psychologists, most of those who suffer from pyromania were brought up in dysfunctional families. They were cruel, disrespectful and there was violence. Because of this, the child never learned to control himself, to restrain some destructive impulses.
  3. Weak intellectual development. This factor is less common than others. Due to some diseases that reduce the level of intelligence (mental retardation, dementia, brain injuries, etc.), the pyromaniac simply does not understand what he is doing. He simply admires the fire, without even thinking about the destructive effect it brings with it.
  4. Psychopathy. It is considered one of the main factors provoking the development of pyromania. At the same time, the pyromaniac is not limited to arson. He may be caught in theft, fraud, vagrancy and other illegal activities.

The mechanism of development and symptoms of pyromania

The disorder does not form overnight. It goes through several stages of development:

  1. First, a person has an obsessive thought that he needs to start a fire and admire the fire. There is no way to get rid of this desire.
  2. Further, the patient admits that his idea can be realized. This improves his mood. Thus begins the thinking stage, which brings with it joyful anticipation.
  3. Next comes the actual implementation of the plan or arson. At this stage, a person experiences unprecedented euphoria and a feeling of happiness. The amount of adrenaline and serotonin in the blood increases.
  4. After the arson is committed, the stage of repentance begins. A person realizes that he has done something bad, and this makes him depressed. In order to get out of it, he needs a new portion of thrills. And so on in a circle.

Over time, the intervals between stages become shorter. During these intervals, pyromaniacs think about fire, fires. They watch films and news on this topic with unprecedented pleasure, and also discuss it with others. Moreover, they often see fires in their dreams.

If a person suffering from pyromania drinks alcohol, he becomes almost uncontrollable, which is why he is capable of impulsive actions. So, he can set fire to a house with people inside.

So, you can determine the presence of pyromania by the following signs:

  1. Arsons set by patients have no purpose or motive and do not require profit or damage.
  2. Everything happens spontaneously.
  3. Thinking about an event causes a person to experience great excitement and anxiety.
  4. Hyperactivity appears.
  5. When observing the fire, the patient feels delight, pleasure, and sometimes excitement.

An unhealthy craving for fire also manifests itself in conversations, obsessive thoughts, and drawings.

Risk factors

In addition to humiliation and lack of upbringing, risk factors for the development of pyromania are considered to be living in a single-parent family. Currently, many children are being brought up without a father, who once left his family, and the child’s desire is to return his father in any way: attracting attention to himself, creating situations that threaten the child’s life, which can include arson. The child or teenager does not fully understand the danger of such behavior, nor does he think about the fact that the father may not even know about the danger threatening his child.

Diagnosis and treatment

In order to confirm the diagnosis, the psychiatrist needs to find out whether the patient had motives for setting the fire. If there were, then we are talking about a crime. If he did it for the purpose of pleasure, there is a mental disorder.

A specialist can prove the presence of pyromania based on the following points:

  1. There were more than 2 arson attacks. The man carefully thought through and planned each of them.
  2. Immediately before and during the fire, the patient experienced a lot of positive emotions, ranging from joyful anticipation to indescribable delight.
  3. There was no goal to take revenge on anyone or prove anything, or to hide what had been done. The desire to set something on fire was impulsive.

If there is a suspicion of schizophrenia, alcoholism and drug addiction, dementia or other personality disorders, additional diagnostics will be required, in particular CT and MRI.

The treatment plan is determined by the complexity of the course of pyromania. If the pathology does not develop against the background of any mental illness, but as an independent disorder, hospitalization will be required. The main difficulty is that patients often do not realize their condition and try hard to avoid treatment. In some cases it has to be done forcibly.

Treatment consists of 2 stages. The first is drug therapy. Medicines will help cope with impulsive desires to set something on fire. The most commonly prescribed drugs are antipsychotics, anxiolytics, and sedatives.

The second stage is psychotherapy. But we are not talking about passive methods. Attempts to change the patient’s beliefs will not end in anything. Therefore, the use of hypnosis and neurolinguistic programming is recommended. Psychocorrection is possible already at the recovery stage.


Cognitive behavioral therapy methods can be very effective, since pyromania is considered a behavioral disorder. But in practice this does not always turn out to be the case. You can compare CBT and alcoholism. The disorder is closely associated with affect, and only then is expressed in behavior that can be explained by hypomania or mania. After all, already when preparing for arson, a person experiences euphoria.

It captures the patient’s entire mind and requires an event, for example, it could even be murder. But the pyromaniac does not want human torment, and if people suffer in the fire, he will sincerely regret it. He is ready to set fire to his property for the sake of a thrill. The important thing is that the picture of the fire captures attention, and the stress after the arson extinguishes the manic phase.

A sadist, strangling a girl, gets a feeling of ecstasy, this calms him down. The arsonist also strives for the same thing - it’s just that for one, ecstasy is associated with murder, for another with arson. But the feeling of pleasure itself is needed not for the sake of 5 seconds of pleasure, but for the sake of subsequent relaxation.

Therefore, any psychotherapy should promote and lead to relaxation. Only in the most severe cases should drug therapy be used. All other treatment should be limited to teaching the patient to obtain relaxation without committing arson, and also to control his painful impulses.

Author of the article: Tsibruk Ekaterina Sergeevna, psychiatrist-narcologist

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