[pahy-ruh-mey-nee-uh, -meyn-yuh]
Pyromania is an impulse to deliberately start fires to relieve tension and typically includes gratification or relief afterward. Pyromania is distinct from arson, and pyromaniacs are also distinct from those who start fires because of psychosis, for personal, monetary or political gain, or for acts of revenge. Pyromaniacs start fires to induce euphoria, and often tend to fixate on institutions of fire control like fire stations and firefighters.


Little is known about this impulse control disorder, except some research suggesting there is an environmental component arising in late childhood. Few scientifically rigorous studies have been done on the subject, but psychosocial hypotheses suggest pyromania may be a form of communication from those with few social skills, or an ungratified sexuality for which setting fires is a symbolic solution. Medical research also suggests a possible link to reactive hypoglycemia or a decreased concentration of 3-methoxy-4-hydroxyphenylglycol and 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HIAA) in the cerebrospinal fluid. Some biological similarities have been discovered, such as abnormalities in the levels of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and serotonin, which could be related to problems of impulse control, and also low blood sugar levels. Children who are pyromaniacs often have a history of cruelty to animals. They also frequently suffer from other behavior disorders and have learning disabilities and attention disorders. It is also one of the supposed three early signs of developing psychopathy (the MacDonald triad). Other studies have linked pyromania to child abuse. Aside from that, it's possible that it's simply a carry-on from primitive man, much like ADD or ADHD, as many pyromaniacs say they feel comfort with a fire burning.


Pyromaniacs are known to have feelings of sadness and loneliness, followed by rage, which leads to the setting of fires as an outlet. For a positive diagnosis, there must be purposeful setting of fire on at least two occasions. There is tension or arousal prior to the act, and gratification or relief when it is over. It is done for its own sake, and not for any other motivation. In some cases it is all about the pleasure of seeing what other people have to do to extinguish the fire, and the pyromaniac may enjoy realizing the effects of what they have done. Many pyromaniacs feel a relief of stress in watching things burn or smolder, and the condition is fueled by the need to watch objects burn. Some people diagnosed with pyromania have also committed crimes such as rape (11%) and nonviolent sexual offenses (18%).


Pyromania is a very rare disorder, and the incidence of it is less than one percent in most studies; also, pyromaniacs are a very small proportion of psychiatric hospital admissions. Pyromania can occur in children as young as age three, but it is rare in adults and rarer in children. Only a small percentage of children and adolescents arrested for arson have pyromania. Ninety percent of those diagnosed with pyromania are male. Based on a survey of 9,282 Americans using the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual on Mental Disorders, 4th edition, impulse-control problems such as gambling, pyromania and compulsive shopping collectively affect 9% of the population. And a 1979 study by the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration found that only 14% of fires were started by pyromaniacs and others with mental illness.


Behavior modification is the usual treatment for pyromania. Other treatments include seeing the patient's actions as an unconscious process and analyzing it to help the patient get rid of the behavior. Often, this treatment is followed by a more psychodynamic approach that addresses the underlying problems that generated the negative emotions causing the mania. The prognosis for treatment is generally fair to poor. Treatment appears to work in 95% of children that exhibit signs of pyromania, which include family therapy and community intervention. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are also used to treat this condition. Studies have also shown there are therapeutic benefits associated with playing out the mania in a simulated environment.

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