The use of alcohol as a strategy to regulate emotional distress has been widely considered as a core risk factor for problem drinking. Recent research has suggested that using alcohol to self-regulate may be sustained by emotional intolerance (the perceived inability to tolerate emotional distress) and desire thinking (a voluntary cognitive process involving verbal and imaginal elaboration of a desired target). The goal of this study was to explore the role of emotional intolerance and desire thinking in predicting problem drinking. A sample of problem drinkers (n = 50), and social drinkers (n = 56) completed self-report instruments of emotional intolerance, desire thinking and problem drinking. Analyses revealed that the verbal perseveration factor of desire thinking was the only significant predictor of classification as a problem drinker. In addition both factors of desire thinking were found to predict problem drinking independently of emotional intolerance. These findings suggest that desire thinking may be a risk factor across the transition from social to problem drinking and that treatment may benefit from targeting specifically this cognitive process together with meta-emotional appraisal.