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Pyromania is a serious and rare psychiatric condition that requires treatment to avoid bodily harm, property damage, and problems with the law. Although fire-starting is a symptom of a few mental health conditions, true pyromania is very distinct and requires professional diagnosis. Impulse control disorders like pyromania cause individuals to become obsessed with watching and starting fires. Pyromania is uncommon but treatable, typically through therapy and medication.

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What Is Pyromania?

Pyromania is one of the several impulse control disorders that causes the uncontrollable desire to start fires deliberately.

While people often joke that anyone interested in fire must have pyromania, just being intrigued by fire does not mean you have pyromania. Individuals with pyromania are aware that setting things on fire could harm themselves or others.

However, setting fires is often the only way to relieve the anxiety or tension that builds before lighting the fire. Pyromaniacs will typically feel intense relief or satisfaction after setting the fire.

Aside from pyromania, the four other impulse control disorders include:

Prevalence of Pyromania

Despite the condition’s popularity in movies and TV shows, true cases of pyromania are quite rare. Among all impulse control disorders, pyromania is the rarest, affecting less than 1% of the U.S. population.

In a well-known study from the University of Heidelberg investigating those incarcerated for arson, only 3% actually met the criteria for pyromania.

Symptoms of Pyromania

Fire-setting behavior can be a symptom of many different mental health conditions. However, the reason for setting the fire determines if someone may have pyromania or a different condition.

People who set fires due to hallucinations, manic episodes, political protests, hiding a crime, under the influence of substances, to cause intentional property damage, or for monetary gain do not have pyromania.

To receive the diagnosis of pyromania, you must meet the following diagnostic criteria laid out by the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition):

  • Deliberately starting a fire on more than one occasion
  • Feelings of tension or anxiety before starting a fire
  • Feeling pleasure, satisfaction, or relief when starting fires, watching fires, or being involved in the aftermath of a fire
  • Being drawn to and obsessed with fires, including tools like lighters, matches, and other fire-starting paraphernalia
  • Obsession with starting fires can’t be explained through another mental health disorder

Pyromania and Addiction

Pyromania is sometimes described as an addiction to starting fires, and while the two conditions share similarities, pyromania is not an addiction. However, substance abuse issues and pyromania often co-occur.

What Do Addicts and Pyromaniacs Have in Common?

Just as addicts may feel the uncontrollable urge to abuse their substance of choice, pyromaniacs also experience intensely powerful urges to set fires. Because pyromaniacs already have difficulty controlling their impulses, substance use only worsens that impulsivity.

Fire-starting caused by substance abuse is not pyromania but is still a common symptom they share. People with true pyromania who engage in substance abuse, especially alcohol abuse, can make pyromania symptoms much worse.

Is Pyromania an Addiction?

No, pyromania is not an addiction; it is an impulse control disorder.

The obsession and fixation with fire many pyromaniacs present can be mistaken for signs of addiction due to their shared struggles with impulsivity.

Are People With Pyromania More At Risk for Substance Use Disorder?

Yes, substance use disorder is a risk factor for developing pyromania. The two are common co-occurring disorders.

One of the theorized causes for pyromania is changes in brain chemistry, especially related to the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin.

An individual with substance use disorder may experience disruptions in their brain chemistry, possibly leading to pyromania and vice versa.

Causes of Pyromania

The exact cause of pyromania is still the subject of debate. The leading theories suggest that some of the causes of pyromania are co-occurring mental health conditions and changes in brain chemicals.

Pyromania tends to develop in children and adolescents but can also occur in adulthood.

Pyromania Risk Factors

There are several risk factors associated with pyromania. Like other impulse control disorders (excluding kleptomania), pyromania is predominantly a male condition.

Other risk factors for developing pyromania include:

Pyromania Diagnosis and Treatment

Although pyromania is rare, there are treatments available for the condition.

Most pyromania treatment plans include psychotherapy, typically in the form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Some medications may also help with controlling symptoms and addressing co-occurring mental illnesses.

How Is Pyromanina Diagnosed?

Pyromania is diagnosed by interviewing the patient to determine their family history and current symptoms.

There are no diagnostic assessment tools for pyromania, so mental health professionals will typically use the DSM-5 criteria to make a diagnosis.

After evaluating your symptoms and ruling out other causes of fire-starting, a mental health provider will make an official diagnosis and recommend a treatment plan based on your unique needs.

Treatment Options for Pyromania

Therapy is the most promising form of treatment for pyromania. It can help firesetters identify the root cause of their behavior.

Patients will also develop certain skills like fire safety, desensitization to triggers or stressors, and tactics to cope with the built-up stress many pyromaniacs feel before setting a fire.

Common therapies used to treat pyromania include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT helps patients identify and address problematic behaviors and self-beliefs
  • Parent management training: Parent management training helps caregivers and parents better manage a child’s behavior with positive reinforcement
  • Multisystemic therapy: Multisystemic therapy is a more intensive type of family therapy that addresses every aspect of a child’s life

While there is currently no FDA-approved treatment for pyromania, many pyromaniacs have co-occurring mental health conditions. Treating co-occurring conditions can potentially help improve symptoms of pyromania.

Commonly prescribed medications for conditions co-occurring with pyromania include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Atypical antipsychotics
  • Antiepileptic medications
  • Lithium

Find Treatment for Pyromania

Pyromania can be a complicated and sometimes dangerous condition to address. However, it’s important not to demonize people who struggle with pyromania, even if their fire starting seems intentional.

If you or a loved one is struggling to control pyromania, don’t wait to seek treatment. Seeking treatment can help avoid bodily harm or legal troubles.

Speak with a doctor or mental health professional about your symptoms to determine if you indeed have pyromania or some other mental health concern.

You can also try SAMHSA’s online treatment locator or call 1-800-662-4357 (HELP) to find a mental health expert accepting new patients in your area.

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FAQs About Pyromania

Is pyromania a mental illness?

Yes. Pyromania is an impulse control disorder, which is a mental illness. Pyromania is sometimes compared to an addiction, but the condition functions and develops differently from an addictive disorder.

What causes pyromania?

There is no exact cause currently known. However, research indicates that the cause of pyromania may be related to genetics, changes in brain chemistry, and extreme childhood abuse or neglect. Co-occurring mental health conditions like mood disorders, personality disorders, PTSD, and ADHD may contribute.

What’s the difference between a pyromaniac and an arsonist?

A pyromaniac feels an intense urge or desire to start a fire, whereas an arsonist has other real-world motives for setting a fire. For example, an arsonist may set a fire for insurance purposes, to hide a crime, or due to peer pressure.

Pyromaniacs do not have motives for starting a fire other than an obsession with fire or to feel the release of tension or anxiety built up before starting the fire.

How is pyromania diagnosed?

Pyromania is diagnosed by using the DSM-5 criteria. There are currently no reliable diagnostic assessment tools or tests for identifying pyromania. Many online tests are unreliable or romanticize the condition and should be avoided if you’re concerned you or a loved one may have pyromania.

Can pyromania be cured?

No. Like most mental health conditions, pyromania cannot be cured. Pyromania is treated and managed through therapy and, if needed, medication. Therapy can help pyromaniacs identify thought patterns and behavior that lead to impulsive behaviors, as well as develop skills to avoid potential triggers.

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. is a founder of Addiction HelpReviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of and ensures the website’s medical content and messaging quality.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Editorial Director

Jessica Miller is the Editorial Director of Addiction Help. Jessica graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) with an English degree and combines her writing expertise and passion for helping others to deliver reliable information to those impacted by addiction. Informed by her personal journey to recovery and support of loved ones in sobriety, Jessica's empathetic and authentic approach resonates deeply with the Addiction Help community.

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  3. Fariba, K. A. (2023, August 14). Impulse Control Disorders. StatPearls.
  4. Gannon, T. A., & Pina, A. (2010, January 18). Firesetting: Psychopathology, Theory and Treatment. Aggression and Violent Behavior.
  5. Johnson, R. S., & Netherton, E. (2017, April 19). Fire Setting and the Impulse-Control Disorder of Pyromania. American Journal of Psychiatry Residents’ Journal.
  6. Villines, Z. (2024, January 15). Pyromaniac: Meaning, Symptoms, and Treatment. Medical News Today.
  7. WebMD. (2023, July 19). Pyromania: What Is it, What Causes it, and How Is it Treated? WebMD.

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