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Pyromania is an impulse control disorder in which individuals repeatedly fail to resist impulses to deliberately start fires, in order to relieve tension or for instant gratification. The term pyromania comes from the Greek word πῦρ (pyro, fire). Pyromania is distinct from arson, the deliberate setting of fires for personal, monetary or political gain. Pyromaniacs start fires to induce euphoria, and often fixate on institutions of fire control like fire stations and firefighters. Pyromania is a type of impulse control disorder, along with kleptomania, intermittent explosive disorder and others.
Signs and symptoms
There are specific symptoms that separate pyromaniacs from those who start fires for criminal purposes or due to emotional motivations not specifically related to fire. Someone suffering from this disorder deliberately and purposely sets fires on more than one occasion, and before the act of lighting the fire the person usually experiences tension and an emotional buildup. When around fires, a person suffering from pyromania gains intense interest or fascination and may also experience pleasure, gratification or relief (Frey 2001). Another long term contributor often linked with pyromania is the buildup of stress. When studying the lifestyle of someone with pyromania, a buildup of stress and emotion is often evident and this is seen in teens' attitudes towards friends and family (Gale 1998). At times it is difficult to distinguish the difference between pyromania and experimentation in childhood because both involve pleasure from the fire.
Most foreign studied cases of pyromania occur in children and teenagers (Gale 1998). There is a range of causes, but an understanding of the different motives and actions of fire setters can provide a platform for prevention. Common causes of pyromania can be broken down into two main groups: individual and environmental. This includes the complex understanding of factors such as individual temperament, parental psychopathology, and possible neurochemical predispositions. Many studies have shown that patients with pyromanias were in households without a father figure present.
Individual factors that can lead to pyromania mainly deal with personal issues in someone's life. This category includes adolescents who have committed crimes in the past. For example, 19% of adolescents suffering from pyromania have been charged with vandalism and 18% are non-violent sexual offenders. Other causes may include the seeking of attention from authorities or parents and resolving social issues such as bullying or lack of friends or siblings (Frey 2001). Another cause may be that the patient is subconsciously seeking revenge for something that has occurred in the past. Individuals with pyromania have also been prominent in having antisocial traits. These include truancy, running away from home, and delinquency. Childhood and adolescent individuals are usually associated with ADHD or adjustment disorders, although it is important to know that pyromania is in fact not a mental disorder, though more of an impulsive act of stress relief. Pyromaniacs have also been associated with abnormal cravings of power and social prestige.
Environmental factors that may lead to pyromania include an event that the patient has experienced in the environment they live in. Environmental factors include neglect from parents and physical or sexual abuse in earlier life. Other causes include early experiences of watching adults or teenagers using fire inappropriately and lighting fires as a stress reliever (Frey 2001).
Pyromania is best prevented by parents taking the time to educate their children on fire safety and the dangers of fires. Parents should also keep all fire lighting devices out of reach of children and any teenagers to reduce the risk of their starting any fires (Australian Brushfire Arson Bulletin 2005).
Treatment and prognosis
The appropriate treatment for pyromania varies with the age of the patient and the seriousness of the condition. For children and adolescents treatment usually is cognitive behavioural therapy sessions in which the patient’s situation is diagnosed to find out what may have caused this impulsive behaviour. Once the situation is diagnosed, repeated therapy sessions usually help continue to a recovery (Frey 2001). Other important steps must be taken as well with the interventions and the cause of the impulse behaviour. Some other treatments measures include parenting training, over-correction/satiation/negative practice with corrective consequences, behavior contracting/token reinforcement, special problem-solving skills training, relaxation training, covert sensitization, fire safety and prevention education, individual and family therapy, and medication. The prognosis for recovery in adolescents and children who suffer from pyromania depends on the environmental or individual factors in play, but is generally positive. Pyromania is generally harder to treat in adults, often due to lack of cooperation by the patient. Treatment usually consists of more medication to prevent stress or emotional outbursts (Oliver) in addition to long-term psychotherapy (Frey 2001). In adults, however, the recovery rate is generally poor and if an adult does recover it usually takes a longer period of time (Frey 2001).
Pyromania was thought in the 1800s to be a concept involved with moral insanity and moral treatment, but had not been categorized under impulse control disorders. Pyromania is one of the categories in the four types of arson, which are recognized. The four include: profit, to cover up an act of crime, for revenge, and pyromania, with pyromania being the second most prominent category. Common synonyms for pyromaniacs in colloquial English include firebug and fire starter. Pyromania is a rare disorder with an incidence of less than one percent in most studies; also, pyromaniacs hold a very small proportion of psychiatric hospital admissions (The Arsonist's Mind 2006). Pyromania can occur in children as young as age three, though such cases are rare. Only a small percentage[quantify] of children and teenagers arrested for arson are child pyromaniacs. A preponderance of the individuals are male; one source states that ninety percent of those diagnosed with pyromania are male. Based on a survey of 9,282 Americans using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition, impulse-control problems such as gambling, pyromania and compulsive shopping collectively affect 9% of the population (Alspach 2005). A 1979 study by the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration found that only 14% of fires were started by pyromaniacs and others with mental illness (Smith 1999). A 1951 study by Lewis and Yarnell, one of the largest epidemiological studies conducted, found that 39% of those who had intentionally set fires had been diagnosed with pyromania.
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- (Gale 1998)
- Robert E. Hales: The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Psychiatry 2008, found on: Google books
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