Drogba (centre) could have had a first-half hat-trick
Chelsea recorded their ninth successive victory at Stamford Bridge and condemned Charlton to their worst ever start to a Premier League campaign.
Didier Drogba gave the hosts the lead on six minutes, jabbing the ball home after a Bryan Hughes clearance.
With the hosts apparently cruising, Chelsea old boy Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink levelled with a smart left-foot shot.
But a Ricardo Carvalho header sealed the points for Chelsea before Frank Lampard had a late penalty saved.
Charlton found themselves overrun from the kick-off and Drogba's opener was far from a surprise.
Michael Ballack's diving header was cleared off the line by Hughes but Drogba, lurking just outside the six-yard box, stabbed the ball home.
Drogba should have doubled his tally on 13 minutes after Shaun Wright-Phillips outpaced Djimi Traore down the right flank, but Scott Carson made a good save diving low to his left.
With Chelsea in complete control of midfield, Ballack, making his competitive home debut, thrust forward on 21 minutes and lashed a left-foot shot just over.
Lampard then dragged a shot just wide on the half-hour mark before Charlton had a golden opportunity to equalise.
Dennis Rommedahl, on for the injured Andy Reid, crossed from the right but Darren Bent could only glance his free header wide.
Chelsea continued to swamp the visitors, with Drogba fluffing a gilt-edged chance after a slide-rule pass from Lampard.
And Ballack was unlucky not to score with a curling left-foot shot that shaved Carson's right-hand upright.
Andriy Shevchenko had his first chance on 40 minutes, heading straight at Carson after a barnstorming run from left-back Wayne Bridge.
Chelsea still looked comfortable immediately after the restart, but old boy Hasselbaink bumped them out of their comfort zone with a well-taken equaliser.
Hasselbaink took an inside pass from Rommedhal, turned and slotted a left-foot shot past a full-stretch Petr Cech before sheepishly apologising to the Stamford Bridge faithful.
Almost immediately, new Chelsea signing Ashley Cole replaced the impressive Bridge and it had the desired effect.
On 60 minutes, Lampard sent in a high, swinging corner and Carvalho planted a powerful header beyond the groping Carson.
Carson was not helped by a faint touch from his team-mate Amady Faye, but the Portuguese defender will claim his fifth Chelsea goal.
Charlton were much brighter in the second half and Marcus Bent thought he had levelled matters on 72 minutes, but he was penalised for handball after a neat turn and shot.
Chelsea should have killed Charlton off with 10 minutes remaining but Lampard, who had another patchy game, had his penalty superbly saved after Talal El Karkouri was adjudged to have pushed Salomon Kalou.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho:
"We should have been 2-0 or 3-0 up at the end of the first half and with the game in our pocket.
"But in the second half they were stronger than us and they deserved their equaliser.
"We went 2-1 up, but after that, they were stronger than us again and if they'd scored a late goal, it wouldn't have been a big surprise."
Charlton manager Iain Dowie:
"We had a sloppy first 15 minutes but then we played well and dominated possession after the break.
"It is bitter blow to lose but we proved a handful for them. We came to play and we did that and I have nothing but praise for my players.
"The only disappointing thing was the result but you have to be proud to manage a group of players like mine."
Chelsea: Cech, Boulahrouz, Ricardo Carvalho, Terry, Bridge (Ashley Cole 62), Essien, Ballack, Lampard, Wright-Phillips (Kalou 61), Shevchenko (Mikel 86), Drogba.
Subs Not Used: Cudicini, Geremi.
Booked: Ballack, Ricardo Carvalho.
Goals: Drogba 6, Ricardo Carvalho 63.
Charlton: Carson, Young, El Karkouri, Diawara (Marcus Bent 64), Traore (Kishishev 49), Ambrose, Faye, Hughes, Reid (Rommedahl 30), Hasselbaink, Darren Bent.
Subs Not Used: Myhre, Holland.
Goals: Hasselbaink 54.
Ref: A Wiley (Staffordshire).