The zebrafish may be uniquely well suited for studying alcohol's mechanisms of action in vivo, since alcohol can be administered via immersion in a non-invasive manner. Despite the robust behavioural effects of alcohol administration in mammals, studies reporting the locomotor stimulant and anxiolytic effects of alcohol in zebrafish have been inconsistent. In the current study, we examined whether differences in the type of water used for alcohol exposure and behavioural testing contribute to these inconsistencies. To answer this question, we exposed zebrafish to either home water from their housing tanks or novel water from an isolated reservoir (i.e. water lacking zebrafish chemosensory and olfactory cues) with 0% or 1% v/v alcohol for 30 min, a 2 × 2 between subject experimental designs. Behavioural responses were quantified throughout the 30-minute exposure session via a video tracking system. Although control zebrafish exposed to home water and novel water were virtually indistinguishable in their behavioural responses, alcohol's effect on locomotor activity and anxiety-like behavioural responses were dependent on the type of water used for testing. Alcohol exposure in home tank water produced a mild anxiolytic and locomotor stimulant effect, whereas alcohol exposure in novel water produced an anxiogenic effect without altering locomotor activity. These results represent a dissociation between alcohol's effects on locomotor and anxiety related responses, and also illustrate how environmental factors, in this case familiarity with the water, may interact with such effects. In light of these findings, we urge researchers to explicitly state the type of water used.