Understanding the neurobiology of the transition from initial drug use to excessive drug use has been a challenge in drug addiction. We examined the effect of chronic ‘binge’ escalating dose cocaine administration, which mimics human compulsive drug use, on behavioural responses and the dopaminergic system of mice and compared it with a chronic steady dose (3 × 15 mg/kg/day) ‘binge’ cocaine administration paradigm. Male C57BL/6J mice were injected with saline or cocaine in an escalating dose paradigm for 14 days. Locomotor and stereotypy activity were measured and quantitative autoradiographic mapping of D1 and D2 receptors, dopamine transporters and D2-stimulated [35S]GTPγS binding was performed in the brains of mice treated with this escalating and steady dose paradigm. An initial sensitization to the locomotor effects of cocaine followed by a dose-dependent increase in the duration of the locomotor effect of cocaine was observed in the escalating but not the steady dose paradigm. Sensitization to the stereotypy effect of cocaine and an increase in cocaine-induced stereotypy score was observed from 3 × 20 to 3 × 25 mg/kg/day cocaine. There was a significant decrease in D2 receptor density, but an increase in D2-stimulated G-protein activity and dopamine transporter density in the striatum of cocaine-treated mice, which was not observed in our steady dose paradigm. Our results document that chronic ‘binge’ escalating dose cocaine treatment triggers profound behavioural and neurochemical changes in the dopaminergic system, which might underlie the transition from drug use to compulsive drug use associated with addiction, which is a process of escalation.