Dromomania was a historical psychiatric diagnosis whose primary symptom was uncontrollable urge to walk or wander. It has come to be used non-clinically to describe a desire for frequent traveling or wanderlust.
19th and early 20th centuries
Dromomania was a historical psychiatric diagnosis whose primary symptom was an irresistible urge to aimlessly wander, travel, or walk. Some authors describe patients with this diagnosis as being in an "in an automatic state" as they traveled, experiencing partial amnesia of the events of their journeys. Other symptoms included a "loss of sense of personal identity, ... and impulses to homicide and suicide."
Bioethicist Henk A. M. J. ten Have regards dromomania as equivalent to the DSM IV diagnosis of dissociative fugue and the historical diagnoses of Wandertrieb (German) and automatisme ambulatoire (French).
The most famous case was that of Jean-Albert Dadas, a Bordeaux gas-fitter. Dadas would suddenly set out on foot and reach cities as far away as Prague, Vienna or Moscow with no memory of his travels. A medical student, Philippe Tissié, wrote about Dadas in his doctoral dissertation in 1887.
Jean-Martin Charcot presented a similar case he called automatisme ambulatoire, French for "ambulatory automatism", or "walking around without being in control of one's own actions." Many cases of dromomania have been described.
Dromomania was primarily described by French psychiatrists. The concept of dromomania was adapted in America into drapetomania, a mental disorder whose primary symptom was running away. This diagnosis was applied only to slaves.
Dromomania is one of a constellation of social constructs to describe contemporary nomadic lifestyles, along with bum, brodyaga, hobo vagrant, divagate, itinerant, vagabond, transient, tramp, rogue, wanderer Within this constellation, Dromomania is an extreme pathologizing term.
In the early 20th century, dromomania was classified as one of a number of criminal manias, which were understood to involve irresistable compulsions to act without any motivation and sometimes against the preferences of the actor. Other such criminal manias were kleptomania, pyromania, and dipsomania. The American Prison Association described all of these criminal manias as common among people with psychopathic personalities, who were also described as lacking in purpose and ambition.
Dromomania was sometimes equated with propensity to vagrancy. The construct has been involved in the regulation of homelessness. It associated with the belief that homeless travelers lose the capacity to live in homes and maintain stability.
Frequent travelers such as Francis Xavier have been suspected of having dromomania. Travel writer Richard Grant has suggested that dromomania is a disorder defined by sedentary cultures which pathologize a desire for travel that is present as an instinct in humans from their history as nomadic hunter-gathers.
During the 20th century, this diagnosis fell into disuse. However, since 2000 articles have appeared describing dromomania as a potential consequence of Alzheimer's disease, dementia, and delirium. There have been attempts to treat dromomania with antipsychotic medications.
The term dromomania is derived from combining the Greek dromos, meaning "running" with the root mania. The term has sometimes been clinical and pathologizing, and other times been descriptive of unusual enthusiasm without negative or medicalizing connotations, reflecting the diverse uses of the term mania itself. In the 17th century, that the term mania came to be used to describe any show of great enthusiasm for a specific activity or object. Later, it came to be used as a suffix for Greek words to refer to an irrational obsession, such as in the words guanaikomania, hippomania, and nymphomania. At the same time emerged the French -manie, such as in bibliomanie which was borrowed in English as bibliomania. The original sense of enthusiasm without the sense of irrationality continued, as can be seen in Coleridge's late (1772-1843) use of the term scribbleomania.
More generally, the term is sometimes used to describe people who have a strong emotional or even physical need to be constantly traveling and experiencing new places, often at the expense of their normal family, work, and social lives.
In a 1977 book, cultural theorist Paul Virilio criticized modernity for acculturating people to become insanely addicted to pursuing the future and unable to stop, which he characterized as "dromomania". Virilio's analysis of contemporary culture has continued to be endorsed by other cultural theorists and regarded as even more accurate after the growth of finance capitalism and globalization.
- Classification of mental disorders
- Dissociative fugue
- Hypermobility (travel)
- Mental disorder
- New Age travellers
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