Prevalence and correlates of fire-setting in the United States: results from the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions

Michael G. Vaughn, Qiang Fu, Matt DeLisi, John Paul Wright, Kevin M. Beaver, Brian E. Perron, Matthew O. Howard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Citations (Scopus)


Fire-setting is a serious and costly form of antisocial behavior. Our objective in this study was to examine the prevalence and correlates of intentional fire-setting behavior in the United States. Data were derived from a nationally representative sample of US residents 18 years and older. Structured psychiatric interviews (N = 43 093) were completed by trained lay interviewers between 2001 and 2002. Fire-setting as well as mood, anxiety, substance use, and personality disorders of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition were assessed with the Alcohol Use Disorder and Associated Disabilities Interview Schedule (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition) version. The prevalence of lifetime fire-setting in the US population was 1.0%. Respondents who were men, white, 18 to 35 years old, born in the United States, and living in the western region of the United States had significantly higher rates of fire-setting than their counterparts. Fire-setting was significantly associated with a wide range of antisocial behaviors. Multivariate logistic regression analyses identified strong associations between lifetime alcohol and marijuana use disorders, conduct disorder, antisocial and obsessive-compulsive personality disorders, and family history of antisocial behavior. Intentional illicit fire-setting behavior is associated with a broad array of antisocial behaviors and psychiatric comorbidities. Given the substantial personal and social costs related to arson, prevention and treatment interventions targeting fire-setters potentially could save lives and property.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)217-223
Number of pages7
JournalComprehensive Psychiatry
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2010 May

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
NESARC was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism with additional support provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The authors are grateful for the support from National Institutes of Health grants: DA021405 (Dr. Howard) and K07CA104119 (Dr Fu).

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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