Impulse control disorders are a group of psychiatric disorders that have an onset at between 7 and 15 years of age. The disorders include kleptomania, dermatillomania, intermittent explosive disorder, pyromania and trichotillomania.
The prominent feature of these disorders is the repeated inability to stop behaving impulsively, or to resist the desire for short term satisfaction from behaviors and actions that result in great long term loss or harm.
Pyromania is a behavior that involves deliberately setting fires to gain pleasure or satisfaction and to relieve tension. The name of the disorder comes from the Greek for “fire” and “loss of reason” or “madness.” The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders , indicates that a person diagnosed with pyromania fails to resist the impulsive desire to set fire, as opposed to the acts of an arsonist or terrorist.
Pyromania is the form of impulse control disorder that involves setting fires, usually with tension as a precursor and gratification or release of tension as a result. There is a great curiosity and fascination with fire, but true pyromania excludes arson, or fire setting for criminal, monetary or other reasons. It is an episodic behavior that is not done frequently, and it is a rare disorder.
Psychosis is also not related to pyromania. Pyromania involves fixation with fires and fire related institutions, such as fire departments and stations. Pyromania is done to induce euphoria, so revenge, psychosis and other reasons are not the motivator.
There is some form of pleasure or tension relief from the behavior, even when the behavior is disfiguring or painful. There is tension before the act of compulsion and there is either pleasure or relief afterward.
This is a rare disorder, affecting less than 1 percent of the population, 90 percent of whom are male. It is reported that only 14 percent of fires are started by pyromaniacs or individuals with other mental illnesses. In childhood cases, only a small percentage were found to have pyromania.
Treatment includes analysis, seritonin re-uptake inhibitors, behavior modification, and getting to the causes of the problematic behavior. In some cases, positive results have come from acting out the behavior in controlled environments. The range of probable sucessful outcome is from fair to poor, with 95 percent of children responding well to treatment.
As with other impulse control disorders, early detection and treatment in childhood offers the best prognosis for modifying and reversing the behavior.