07/02/2014 01:21 EDT | Updated 09/01/2014 05:59 EDT

Rob Ford says he was drinking, using drugs before becoming Toronto mayor

TORONTO - The stress of running Canada's largest city is not what drove Rob Ford to abuse substances, he said Wednesday, admitting he was drinking and using drugs before he was elected as Toronto's mayor.

Ford returned to city hall this week after two months in rehab, pleading for a second chance. He would not answer questions after an emotional statement Monday, but was sitting down Wednesday with a handful of television networks for one-on-one interviews.

Ford told CBC he has been under the influence of alcohol while at city hall as mayor, but never used drugs there. He was adamant that his professional life is not what prompted his substance abuse, saying he was born with a "chronic disease" and he will die with it.

"I think people don't understand the triggers and cravings," Ford said in the live television interview. "Some people blame it on their job. This is a disease that was not this job."

Ford said he drank and did drugs "for years" before he was elected mayor.

The drugs he used ran the gamut, he said, telling television station CP24 that he had done mushrooms, marijuana and "everything you can think of," but not heroin.

"The disease gives you uncontrolled cravings that no one would understand unless you have the disease," he said.

When asked if someone with uncontrolled cravings is fit for the office of mayor, Ford insisted the job is not one of his triggers.

Ford would not commit to resigning if he relapses, saying only that he is taking it one day at a time.

"I did not drink yesterday and I haven't drank today," he said.

Ford is running for re-election as mayor on Oct. 27.

He has vowed to no longer associate "with the criminal element that's before the courts," but said on the advice of his lawyer he still will not consent to an interview with the police.

His lawyer, Dennis Morris, confirmed Wednesday that is indeed his advice to Ford, as it would be to any client.

"Everyone has the right to remain silent under our charter and if police want to investigate people that's their duty," he said in an interview. "Individuals do not have to co-operate in any way and I wouldn't advise anyone trying to make a case for the police when the police should try to make a case on their own."

When asked if he would still advise the mayor not to co-operate with police if Ford has valuable information about people charged in other investigations, Morris said, "I doubt if he does."

Ford's name was mentioned by alleged gang members on wiretaps in a police investigation known as Project Traveller, police say in court documents. An infamous photo shows the mayor posing with a man who was later shot and killed, as well as two other men who were both later charged in that investigation. Former associate Alexander Lisi is facing trial next year on drug charges and has a preliminary hearing scheduled on an extortion charge relating to alleged attempts to retrieve the original so-called crack video that touched off the Ford scandal.

Ford's voice is not on the Project Traveller wiretaps, and if the Crown wanted the mayor to testify in those cases it could subpoena him, Morris said.

Police have spent thousands of hours conducting surveillance on Ford and have not laid any criminal charges against him, Morris said. Toronto Police spokesman Mark Pugash said Wednesday that the criminal investigation into the mayor is ongoing.

The embattled mayor also admitted Wednesday he was smoking crack cocaine just days before he left for rehab, confirming that was the substance in a pipe he was seen holding in a video image obtained by the Globe and Mail. In November, Ford admitted he had smoked crack cocaine, likely in one of his "drunken stupors," several months after the Toronto Star and U.S. website Gawker reported the existence of a video appearing to show the mayor using the drug.

But while repeatedly speaking of his disease, he insisted Wednesday that he is not a crack addict.

Ford also said the disease makes people say and do things they otherwise wouldn't do and he offered a blanket apology for using ethnic slurs and making reportedly homophobic remarks.

"Everything I said while I was using — I offended a lot of people and all I can do is apologize and say sorry," Ford told CP24 when asked if he would apologize to Toronto's "diverse community."

"I cannot change the past and I think that covers everyone that you just mentioned."