The Pyromania Definition: What It Means to be a Pyromaniac

By: Kathryn Anderson Updated: June 15, 2020

The Pyromania Definition: What It Means to be a PyromaniacUnderstand the symptoms, causes, statistics, and more on what it means to be a Pyromaniac. How does media influences the disorder? What age is Pyromania most common in? What’s a case example of a Pyromaniac look like? Learn the answers about this impulse control disorder and how you or someone you know can get help.

Burning Up: Pyromania Definition

A pyromaniac man holding a lit match with black background

A Pyromaniac is a person that suffers from the disorder of Pyromania. Pyromania is an impulse control disorder in which an individual is unable to overcome the urge or impulse to set fires purposefully. Pyromaniacs set fires to feel a sense of pleasure or euphoria from the fire.  Many times pyromaniacs fixate on fire and things that surround fire (i.e. fire-people or firehouses).

An individual experiencing this disorder does not set fires for financial gain or arson but sets fires to experience pleasure from the fire itself. A true pyromaniac does not feel any remorse from setting the fire and is not concerned with the threat his or her fires may pose to life and property.

Mania Definition

Mania is a state of abnormally increased arousal, pleasure, and energy.  When a person is experiencing mania they could be experiencing a heightened mood which could be euphoria or irritable in nature, they experience a flight of ideas and pressured speech, and they also experience an increase in energy.

Mania is a baseline of pyromania because a pyromaniac experiences the increased arousal or euphoria from setting fires. 

How Pyromaniacs Come to Be: What are the Causes?

Each individual that experiences pyromania has a difference of causes to why this disorder has occurred.

Pyromaniacs have factors that are on an environmental and individual level.  Many studies have shown that pyromaniacs come from families without a father figure present.

Some of the individual issues that can lead to becoming a pyromaniac are adolescents who have previously committed a crime (violent or non-violent), seeking attention from authorities or parents, and resolving social issues which could include bullying or limited peer development and interaction.

Some of the environmental factors that can lead to pyromania are an individual that has experienced neglect from parents, physical or sexual abuse at a young age, or watching adults or older youth use fire inappropriately.

Not all individuals experience pyromania due to the above issues but these are commonalities that have been identified as diagnosed pyromaniacs.

Pyromania Stats:  How Many Suffer from this Disorder?

Pyromania is a rare disorder and has been found to affect only 9% of the entire population.  It has been found that it is difficult to establish specific statistics of this disorder because many pyromania acts are incorporated in arson figures.

It has been identified that to get statistics on this number forensic experts would have to analyze arson cases and identify arsonists who are in prison or a psychiatric facility.  This is a rare disorder but is a growing social and economic problem that poses major risks to the health and safety of people and the protection of his or her property.

Demographics: More Common in Adults or Children?

Pyromania is more prevalent in males than females and more common in children and adolescents than in adults.  There was little evidence found of Pyromania in adults.

It has been found that over half of individuals that experience this disorder begin before the age of 15.  Children as young as three years old can experience this disorder. This is astounding to know that if a child or adolescent experiences abuse or neglect at a young age can develop this disorder in elementary school years.

Pyromaniac Definition: 5 Facts You Didn’t’ Know About Pyromania

Hand holding burning matches with small house on the background refer to pyromaniac definition

Pyromania is a rare disorder so there are many things that are not known about this disorder due to the limited availability of cases that can be studied. So here are five things you didn’t know about this disorder:

  1. Adolescent Pyromania can lead to antisocial personality disorder and serial murder.
  2. Fires set by children and adolescents are more likely to result in someone’s death than any other type of household disaster.
  3. Firesetting is a cry for help and many individuals that do experience this want to get help for other psychological or interpersonal problems that they are experiencing.
  4. Sigmund Freud hypothesized that an individual that experiences pyromania is doing this so that they can show his or her power over nature and this is a primitive action.
  5. Many youths that have been arrested for firesetting have been described as loners or outcasts.

Def Leppard Pyromania Songs and More: How Media Influences This Impulse-Control Disorder

Children and adolescents can be easily influenced by others.  This can be in the form of peer pressure, social media presence, music, and other forms of entertainment.

Def Leppard released a hit album in 1983 named Pyromania which topped second on the Billboard charts.  They utilized fire in many of the live performances of this album.  This can heighten the fascination with fire in youth and other individuals.

Statistically, most pyromaniacs are children or adolescents that experienced abuse and neglect so they may not have positive parental figures. If this is true, television and media would be an influence on these children which could result in Pyromania and other impulse control disorders.

Becoming a Pyromaniac: Symptoms

An individual does not just become a Pyromaniac.

The majority of individuals that experience this disorder have experienced some form of neglect or abuse at a young age, have underlying psychological or interpersonal conflicts and are seeking attention through the firesetting, and struggle with utilizing appropriate communication.

What are Common Behaviors/Characteristics?

Common characteristics of pyromaniacs are males that are under the age of 15 and have experienced neglect or physical and sexual abuse at a young age.  These individuals are majority Caucasian and come from families where this is not a father figure present.

Many times these individuals are seen as loners and do not actively communicate with others often.  They may have been previously arrested for sexual offenses both violent and nonviolent as well as vandalism.

The Test: How is Pyromania Properly Diagnosed?

Not all individuals that set fires meet the criteria for Pyromania. For an individual to meet this criterion they have to fail to resist the impulsive desire to set fires, set fires, not for monetary gain but the pleasure of the fire, and experience an increased feeling of euphoria from setting the fire.

This is a rare condition because many times Pyromania gets intertwined with arson.

Diagnose Criteria

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 setting fires or when witnessing or participating 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 better explained by conduct disorder, a manic episode, or anti-social personality disorder.
  • (American Psychiatric Association, 2013)

Pyro Definition vs Arson Definition: What it Means to Be a Pyromaniac and What it Means to Be an Arsonist

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 for the positive feelings that are gained from setting a fire, they may be experiencing Pyromania.

Define Arson: The Arsonist Definition

Arson is a crime where an individual purposefully, deliberately, or maliciously sets fires to buildings, wildland areas, abandoned homes, vehicles, or other property with the intent to cause damage. This damage could be for financial gain, an expression of sociopolitical ideology, express anger or vengeance, or improve one’s circumstances.

Car arson in the city section which relates to Pyromaniac vs Arsonist

Many times arsonists use accelerants when they are setting fires so that there will be vast damage from the fire. Arsonists are not setting fires to feel a sense of euphoria but more to satisfy rage or overcome hardships.

Case Example for a Pyromaniac and Case Example for an Arsonist


A young man that was 13 was sexually abused as a child, was in foster care for the majority of his life, and did not socialize well with others. He struggled to verbalize his behaviors and had a hard time opening up during counseling sessions. He would set fires on the unit of the facility using his heater to let his therapist know that he wanted to express his feelings.

He was unable to ask for help but used the fires to identify that he wanted to express during sessions. The treatment team worked with him on developing appropriate communication skills and working to reduce this negative behavior.

He did better about setting fires and did make progress in the residential program.


One recent case example of arson locally is the case of the woman that accused Roy Moore, Senate candidate in Alabama. The home of the woman that accused Roy Moore of sexual assault was burned and this was an alleged arson attack.

The local law enforcement treated this fire as an arson and it was alleged that she experienced this due to individuals gaining vengeance on her for her allegations that were made on this candidate.

At this time the case is still being investigated but this is a prime example of revenge and how arson’s doing this as vengeance to others.

Pyromania Leave Policies

There are no documented distinct leave policies for this impulse control disorder.  Normally individuals that experience this are children or adolescents so many of them will receive treatment.

When a child or adolescent receives inpatient treatment they maintain school work and this is provided by the facility that they have entered.

Coping with Pyromania: Look out for These Complications/Risk Factors

There have not been any risk factors or complications identified for Pyromania.  There are a few disorders that have been identified to be congruent with this disorder and they 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 a father figure present 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 involve cognitive behavioral therapy in which the therapist helps the client identify triggers that cause his or her desire to set fires and then teaches new coping tools to deal with impulses.

It may also involve the use of exposure and response prevention and habit reversal training.

Possible Medications

Medications that can be used to for this treatment include antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotics.  It is important that the client seek treatment from a psychiatrist that has experience with impulse control disorders and they are compliant with the medication regimen that has been prescribed for them.

Home Remedies to Help a Pyromaniac

If you or someone that you know is experiencing this disorder, it is important that you or they get support.

Developing a positive support system is important for effective treatment. Learning to manage stress is important and an individual can do this by developing positive coping strategies to handle stress as it occurs. Make sure that you are getting adequate rest and eating healthy.

When an individual gets the appropriate sleep and eating appropriately it helps to increase positive mood and decrease irritability which can cause impulses to be increased. Another remedy to alleviate these urges is psychoeducation on fire safety and exposure to individuals that have suffered from burns due to fires.

Living with This Mental Disorder

It is important to ask for help. Many times individuals feel that they will not be heard but the longer negative feelings are manifested the more negative reactions can occur. If you are experiencing these feelings and urges it is important that you know help is there and this can be reduced through the proper treatment and medication regimen.

How to Find a Therapist

Professional therapist in psychotherapy session with male pyromaniac patient

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.  If you have private insurance you can reach out to your insurance company to see what providers are authorized in your locale.

What Should I be Looking for in an LMHP?

Looking for a counselor with experience with cognitive behavioral therapy, behavior modification, impulse control and disruptive behaviors, and addictions would be a good place to start.  These treatment modalities work effectively when treating impulse control disorders.

Questions to ask for Potential Therapist

Do you have experience treating impulse control disorders?

Do you utilize homework and assist in the development of interventions to reduce the urges?

Support Helpline for Pyromaniacs

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 that is most beneficial for the symptoms you are experiencing.

Pyromania is a rare disorder that only affects 9% of the population.

It can be dangerous because fires set by Pyromaniacs can be life-threatening to the individuals involved and also the property that is destroyed.

If you or someone you love is experiencing this disorder help is out there but it is important that the help is found before the individual hurts themselves, others, or destroys property.

Treatment can assist an individual find a more positive way to handle urges, negative feelings, and underlying psychological or interpersonal conflicts.

About the Author:

Jennifer Reynolds is a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor in the state of Alabama and Licensed Mental Health Counselor in the state of Delaware.   She has over 10 years of experience in counseling, advocacy, and consultation.  She works actively to reduce the negative stigma of mental illness and work to increase the implementation of effective counseling services to all populations.  She specializes in emotional support animal assessments, distance counseling, impulse control disorders, mood disorders, trauma (victim and perpetrator standpoints), anxiety, depression, and healthy lifestyle changes.  You can connect with Jennifer on Linkedin.

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